A Brief History of Airplanes

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Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. is most famous for being the location of the first successful flight in history. The men to thank were Orville and Wilbur Wright who created a self-propelled, heavier-than-air aircraft which stayed aloft for 12 seconds, covering 120 feet on its initial flight.

Both Orville and Wilbur grew up in Dayton, Ohio, where they developed an interest in aviation. What really sparked their interest were the glider flights that were invented by a German engineer named Otto Lilienthal. Unlike their other siblings, Orville and Wilbur decided not to attend college, but that’s not to say they weren’t incredibly intelligent. Both men had a unique technical ability and sophisticated approach when it came to solving problems dealing with mechanical designs. Throughout their lives, the two men spent their time building printing presses, and in 1892, they opened up their very own bicycle sales and repair shop.

After extensive research on various engineers’ efforts to construct a controlled aircraft, Orville and Wilbur decided to take matters into their own hands. They wrote a letter to the U.S. Weather Bureau, asking where a suitable place might be to conduct their glider tests. Since Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, was an isolated village that had steady winds and sand dunes to glide from, they began their testing there. The first glider design had issues, but in 1901 they found much more success with a new design. The two even went so far as to build their own wind tunnel where they could test various wings and airframes. After several successful flights with the glider in Kitty Hawk, they invented a biplane glider that had a steering system that was controlled by a moveable rudder. Now they were ready to take on the challenge of powered flight.

With the help of a machinist named Charles Taylor, the brothers designed blueprints for a 12-horsepower internal combustion engine and a new aircraft body to house it. They took this aircraft (in pieces) to Kitty Hawk in the autumn of 1903. On December 14th, Orville made the very first attempt at powered flight. Unfortunately, the engine stalled during takeoff, and the plane suffered some damage. The brothers spent three days repairing the aircraft, and on December 17th, at 10:35 a.m. the aircraft was taken down a monorail track before taking flight in front of five witnesses.

Over the next several years, Orville and Wilbur continued to develop their airplane models and they kept a low profile about their success in the hopes that they would secure patents and contracts for their invention. In 1905, the aircraft was upgraded to perform more complex maneuvers, staying up in the air for 39 minutes at a time. The historic Wright brothers’ aircraft of 1903 can be found at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. today.

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