Wilbur and Orville Wright, pioneers in aviation, were first to fly an airplane. After almost a thousand failed attempts, the Wright Brothers finally achieved what seemed to be impossible. On Thursday, December 17, 1903 Orville flew the Wright Flyer a distance of 37 meters (120 feet) staying aloft for 12 seconds. Later that same day Wilbur flew about 260 meters (852 feet) in a flight lasting 59 seconds.
According to the historical account of Airborne Connections , as boys, Wilbur and Orville loved playing with anything mechanical and investigating how it worked. As well as being interested in mechanical equipment, the boys tried their hand at various business ventures, the most successful of which included making and selling kites, along with a local printing enterprise. Wilbur and Orville also opened a shop designing, manufacturing and selling bicycles.
Wilbur and Orville’s interest in flying had begun when their father had given them a helicopter -like toy, and had continued through years of making, flying and selling kites. However, in 1899, they decided seriously to study aeronautics. Although they were classmates with noted black poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, neither of them officially completed high school, but they were certainly educated and scientific in their approach. Extensive personal study made them experts on the existing information relating to aeronautics, as they were relentless in pursuing their belief that man could fly.
“We were lucky enough to grow up in an environment where there was always much encouragement to children to pursue intellectual interests; to investigate whatever aroused curiosity.” Orville Wright
The first step towards powered flight was to construct a glider which would lift a man’s weight and which could be maneuvered in flights. Although the glider which Wilbur and Orville built in 1900 successfully supported a man’s weight, it was difficult to control. Several years earlier Wilbur recognized that the Creator’s ‘flying machine’ – the bird – had excellent maneuverability. By spending many hours with binoculars studying birds in the wilderness near Dayton, Wilbur found that birds maneuver by changing the shape of their wings. This led the Wright brothers to design a system of pulleys and cables to change the shape of the glider’s wings in a similar way.
For the next four years, the Wright brothers spent most of their time experimenting at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, a place with ideal wind conditions for flight during summer and early autumn. After extensive study and planning in Dayton, the brothers were now ready for the final step – the addition of a lightweight engine which they designed and built themselves. They also built the propellers themselves, designing them according to their own data on air pressure.