Wright brothers

Annie Lee | Jul 3, 2022

Table of Content


The Wright brothers, Orville (b. August 19, 1871, Dayton, Ohio, USA - d. January 30, 1948, Dayton, Ohio, USA) and Wilbur (b. April 16, 1867, Millville(d), Henry County, Indiana, USA - d. May 30, 1912, Dayton, Ohio, USA), were two American aviators, engineers, inventors, and aviation pioneers generally credited with the successful invention, construction, and piloting of the world's first airplane. They made the first controlled, sustained, self-propelled flight of a heavier-than-air aircraft on December 17, 1903, four miles south of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.(d) In 1904-05, the two brothers developed, from their first flying machine, the first practical fixed-wing aircraft.(d) Although they were not the first to build experimental airplanes, it was the Wright brothers who invented the flight control mechanisms that made the first self-propelled flight possible.

The fundamental achievement of the two brothers was the invention of three-axis control(d), which allowed the pilot to manoeuvre the aircraft efficiently and keep it balanced. This method became and still is standard on fixed-wing aircraft of all kinds. From the beginning of their work in aeronautics, the Wright brothers focused on developing a reliable method of control for pilots, which they saw as the key to solving the "flying problem". This approach was very different from other experimenters of the time, who placed more emphasis on developing powerful engines. Using a small wind tunnel they had developed, the Wright brothers also collected more accurate data than anyone before them, allowing them to design and build wings and propellers more efficiently than anything they had ever done before. Their first U.S. patent, number 821,393, did not claim the invention of a flying machine, but rather an aerodynamic control system that handled the surfaces of a flying machine.

They acquired the mechanical skills essential to their success over the years working in their workshop with printing presses, bicycles, engines and other machinery. In particular working on bicycles influenced their belief that an unstable vehicle such as a flying machine could be controlled and balanced through exercise. From 1900 until their first self-propelled flight in late 1903, they conducted extensive tests with gliders that also developed their skills as pilots. Charlie Taylor(d), an employee of their bicycle shop, also became an important part of the team, and built the first airplane engine in close collaboration with the two brothers.

The Wright brothers' status as inventors of the airplane has been challenged by several parties. Much controversy persists over competing claims by early aviators(d). Edward Roach, historian at the National Aviation History Park at Dayton(d) argues that the two were excellent self-taught engineers, capable of running a small business, but lacked the business skills and temperament to dominate the aviation industry in its heyday.

The Wright brothers were two of seven children of Milton Wright(d) (1828-1917), of English(d) and Dutch(d) descent, and Susan Catherine Koerner (1831-1889), of German(d) and Swiss(d) descent. Milton Wright's mother, Catherine Reeder, traced her ancestry to the Vanderbilt family(d) and the Huguenot Gano family of New Rochelle(Orville to Dayton, Ohio, in 1871. The two never married. The other Wright siblings were Reuchlin (1861-1920), Lorin (1862-1939), Katharine(d) (1874-1929), and twins Otis and Ida (born 1870, and died in infancy). In elementary school, Orville had a penchant for breaking the rules and was expelled once. On the direct paternal line, their ancestry goes back to a Samuel Wright (b. 1606 in Essex, England) who sailed to America and settled in Massachusetts in 1636(d).

In 1878, their father, who traveled extensively in his capacity as a bishop in the United Church of the Brethren in Christ(d), brought home a toy helicopter for his two younger sons. The aircraft was based on an invention by French aeronautical pioneer Alphonse Pénaud(d). Made of paper, bamboo and cork, with a rubber band to turn the rotor, the toy was about a foot long. Wilbur and Orville played with it until it broke down, then built another one instead. In the years that followed, they referred to their experience with that toy as the spark that ignited their interest in flying.

Both brothers went to high school but did not receive diplomas. The family's sudden move in 1884 from Richmond, Indiana, where they lived in the 1870s, to Dayton, Ohio, prevented Wilbur from receiving his diploma after completing his four years of high school. The diploma was awarded posthumously to Wilbur on April 16, 1994, the 127th anniversary of his birth.

In late 1885 or early 1886 Wilbur was hit in the face with a hockey stick while playing on the ice with friends, an accident that resulted in the loss of his front teeth. He was energetic and athletic at the time, but although the injuries didn't seem particularly serious, he became withdrawn. He had wanted to study at Yale, but spent the next few years staying mostly indoors. During this time, he nursed his mother, who was ill with tuberculosis, read extensively from his father's library, to whom he gave valuable help during the period of controversy(d) within the Church of the Brethren, but he also expressed anxiety about his own lack of ambition.

Orville dropped out of school after his freshman year of high school to start a printing press business in 1889, after designing and building his own printing press with Wilbur. Wilbur also came to work at the printing press, and in March the brothers launched a weekly newspaper, the West Side News. In later issues, Orville was credited as publisher and Wilbur as editor on the masthead. In April 1890, they turned the weekly into a daily, under the title The Evening Item, but it only lasted four months. They then turned their attention to commercial printing. One of their customers was Orville's friend and classmate Paul Laurence Dunbar, who would become world famous as one of the first African-American poets and writers. For a brief time, the Wright brothers printed the Dayton Tattler, a Dunbar-educated weekly.

Taking advantage of the explosion in popularity of bicycles(d) (spurred by the invention of the safety bicycle(d) and its substantial advantages over the penny-farthing model(d)), in December 1892 the brothers opened a repair shop (Wright Cycle Exchange, later Wright Cycle Company(d)), and in 1896 began manufacturing their own brand. They used this venture to finance their growing interest in flying. In the early to mid-1890s, they saw newspaper or magazine articles and probably photographs of Otto Lilienthal's dramatic glides in Germany.

The year 1896 brought three important aeronautical events. In May, Smithsonian Institution Secretary Samuel Pierpont Langley(d) succeeded in flying a model of a man-less, fixed-wing, steam-powered aircraft. In the middle of the year, Chicago engineer Octave Chanute(d), an aeronautical luminary, gathered several men who had been testing various types of gliders at sand dunes along the shore of Lake Michigan. In August, Lilienthal died after his glider crashed. These events have remained etched in the minds of the brothers, especially Lilienthal's death. The Wright brothers later cited his death as the moment when their truly serious interest in flight research began. Wilbur said: "Lilienthal was undoubtedly the greatest of the forerunners, and the world owes much to him." In May 1899, Wilbur wrote a letter to the Smithsonian Institution requesting information and publications on aeronautics. Building on the work of George Cayley(d), Chanute, Lilienthal, Leonardo da Vinci, and Langley, they began that year to conduct mechanical and aeronautical experiments.

The Wright brothers have always presented a unified picture to the public, equally sharing credit for their invention. Biographers have recorded that Wilbur took the initiative in 1899-1900, writing about "my machine" "my plans" before Orville became more deeply involved, after which in public communication the first person singular was dropped in favor of "we" and "our". Author James Tobin states that "it is impossible to imagine Orville, brilliant as he was, providing the driving force that started their work and kept it going from the back room of an Ohio store to conferences with capitalists, presidents and kings. Will did this. He was the leader, from beginning to end."

Ideas about control

Despite Lilienthal's fate, the brothers preferred his strategy: to practice gliding to master the art of control before attempting powered flight. The death of British aeronaut Percy Pilcher(d) in another glider accident in October 1899 reinforced their view that a safe method of control for the pilot was the key to successful and safe flight. From the outset, their experiments regarded control as the third unsolved part of the 'flying problem'. They believed that sufficiently promising knowledge of the other two subjects-wings and engines-already existed. The Wright brothers thus deviated far from the much more experienced practitioners of the time, especially Clement Ader, Maxim(d), and Langley, who were building powerful engines, attaching them to frames equipped with undemonstrated control devices, and expecting them to be drivable without previous flight experience. Although they agreed with Lilienthal's idea of exercise, the Wright brothers considered his method of balancing and controlling by shifting body weight inadequate. They were determined to find something better.

Based on these observations, Wilbur concluded that birds change the angle of their wingtips to make the body roll to the right or left. The two brothers decided that this would also be a good way for a flying machine to turn-to "tilt" or "lean" in a turn, like a bird-just like a man keeping his balance on a bicycle, an experience they knew well. Equally important, they hoped that this method would also allow recovery when the wind would tilt the machine to one side (lateral balance). But they didn't know how to achieve the same effect with artificial wings, and eventually discovered wing twist(d) when Wilbur twisted a bicycle chamber at the bike shop for no particular reason.

Other aeronautical researchers viewed flight as similar to ground locomotion, except that the surface would be raised. They thought in terms of using a rudder like from boats for steering, while the flying machine remained essentially balanced in the air, like a train or automobile or boat on the surface. The idea of deliberately leaning to one side either seemed undesirable to them, or didn't even enter into their calculations. Some of these other researchers, including Langley and Chanute, sought the intangible ideal of 'inherent stability', believing that the pilot of a flying machine would not be able to react quickly enough to wind disturbances to use the control mechanisms effectively. Instead, the Wright brothers wanted the pilot to have absolute control. For this reason, their early designs made no concessions to constructive stability (such as dihedral(d) wings). They purposely designed their first 1903 aircraft with anhedral(d) (hanging) wings, which are inherently unstable but less susceptible to being overturned by crosswinds.

To flight

In July 1899, Wilbur put the twist wing(d) to the test by building and then flying a biplane kite with a wing span of 1.5m. When the wings twisted, one wingtip produced more lift and the other wingtip less. The unequal lift caused the wings to tilt, or bend: the end with more lift rose, while the other end fell, causing a turn in the direction of the lowered end. The deflection was controlled by four cables attached to the kite, leading to two levers held by the kite's leader, who tilted them in opposite directions to twist the wings.

In 1900, the brothers went to Kitty Hawk(d), North Carolina, to begin their manned gliding experiments. In his reply to the first letter he received from Wilbur, Octave Chanute suggested the mid-Atlantic coast for its steady breezes and soft landing surfaces on sandy beaches. Wilbur also requested and reviewed data from the Weather Bureau(d), and decided to go to Kitty Hawk after receiving information from the government meteorologist stationed there as well. Kitty Hawk, though a remote place, was closer to Dayton than other locations Chanute suggested, such as California and Florida. The location also had the advantage of isolation from reporters, who had turned Chanute's 1896 experiments on Lake Michigan into something of a circus. Chanute visited their camp each season from 1901 to 1903 and saw the gliding experiments, but not the self-propelled flights.


The Wright brothers based their design of the kite and full-size gliders on work done in the 1890s by other aviation pioneers. They adopted the design basis of the Chanute-Hering biplane ("double-decker" as Wright called it), which had flown well in 1896 experiments near Chicago, and used aeronautical lift data published by Otto Lilienthal. The Wright brothers designed wings with a curved upper surface. The two had not discovered this principle, they just took advantage of it. The superior lift of a curved surface over a flat one had first been scientifically discussed by Sir George Cayley(d). Lilienthal, whose work was carefully studied by the Wright brothers, used curved wings in gliders, proving in flight the advantage over flat surfaces. The wooden struts between the wings of the Wright glider were wired into their own version of a Pratt triangular truss skeleton(d) modified by Chanute, a bridge-building design he used for the biplane glider (originally built as a triplane). The Wright brothers mounted the horizontal downrigger in front of the wing, rather than at the rear, apparently believing that this feature would help them avoid, or protect them from, a dive and crash like the one in which Lilienthal died. Wilbur believed, incorrectly, that there was no need for a tail, and the first two gliders didn't have one. According to some biographers of the Wright brothers, Wilbur probably did all the gliding by 1902, perhaps to exercise his authority as an older brother and to protect Orville, since he didn't want to have to explain himself to Bishop Wright if Orville got hurt.

* (the Wright brothers modified it on the spot.)

The brothers flew the glider for only a few days in the early fall of 1900 at Kitty Hawk. In the first tests, probably on October 3, Wilbur was on board as the glider flew like a kite, not far from the ground, with other men below holding it by the strings. Most of the kite tests were without a pilot on board, with sandbags or chains and even a local boy as ballast.

They tested the twisting wing using ground control ropes. The glider was also tested, unmanned, suspended from a small, purpose-built tower. Wilbur, not Orville, did about a dozen free glides in a single day, October 20. For these tests, the brothers went 4 miles south to the Kill Devil Hills(d), a cluster of sand dunes up to 100 feet high (where they camped each of the next three years). Although the glider's lift was lower than expected, the two brothers were encouraged because the front downrigger of the aircraft was well worked and there were no accidents. However, the low number of free glides meant that they were not yet able to put the twisty wings to a real test.

The pilot was lying on the lower wing as designed to reduce drag. When the glide was complete, the pilot had to lower himself into an upright position through an opening in the wing and land on his feet, with his arms wrapped around the frame. In a few glides, however, they discovered that the pilot could lie on the wing, head first, without undue danger, and land. Over the next five years, they flew their flights in this position.

Hoping to improve lift, they built a glider with a much larger wing area in 1901 and made dozens of flights in July and August over distances of 15-122m. The glider stalled a few times, but the parachute effect of the front elevator allowed Wilbur to land safely without going into a dive. These incidents brought the two even closer to the canard design, which they did not give up until 1910. The glider, however, produced two great disappointments. It produced only about one-third of the calculated lift and sometimes veered in the opposite direction from the intended turn-a problem later known as adverse gyration(d)-when Wilbur used twisting wing control. On the way home, Wilbur told Orville, deeply disappointed, that the man would not fly n in a thousand years.

The poor lift of gliders led the Wright brothers to question the accuracy of Lilienthal's data, as well as the "Smeaton coefficient" of air pressure, a value that had been used for over 100 years and was part of the accepted lift equation at the time.

The Wright Brothers used this equation to calculate the lift a wing would produce. Over the years, a wide range of values for the Smeaton coefficient had been measured; Chanute had identified up to 50. Wilbur knew that Langley, for example, had used a lower number than the traditional one. Eager to confirm the correct value of the Smeaton coefficient, Wilbur made his own calculations, using measurements collected during kite soaring and free glider flights in 1901. His results correctly showed that this coefficient is very close to 0.0033 (similar to the number used by Langley), and not the traditional 0.0054, which significantly exaggerated the predicted lift.

To find out if there really are errors in Lilienthal's data tables, the brothers used a bicycle for a new kind of experiment. They made a mock-up-sized airfoil and a flat plate for counteraction, both to the dimensions specified by Lilienthal, and attached them to a bicycle wheel, which they mounted horizontally in front of the handlebars of a bicycle. Pedaling briskly down a local street to create airflow along the device, they noticed that the third wheel spun against the profile instead of remaining stationary, as Lilienthal's formula predicted. The experiment confirmed the suspicion that either the standard Smeaton coefficient or Lilienthal's lift and drag coefficients-all of them-are wrong.

They then built a 1.8 m wind tunnel in their workshop and between October and December 1901 systematically carried out tests on dozens of miniature wings. The "balances" designed and fitted inside the tunnel to hold the wings looked crude, made from bicycle spokes and scrap metal, but were "as critical to the Wright brothers' ultimate success as gliders". The devices allowed the brothers to balance lift with air resistance to accurately calculate the performance of each wing. They also saw which wings performed well by looking through the window at the top of the tunnel. The tests produced a lot of valuable data previously unknown, and showed that the poor lift of the 1900 and 1901 gliders was entirely due to an incorrect value of the Smeaton coefficient, and that Lilienthal published fairly accurate data for his tests.

Prior to detailed wind tunnel testing, Wilbur went to Chicago, at Chanute's invitation, to give a lecture to the Western Society of Engineers(d) on September 18, 1901. He gave a detailed report on the glider experiments of 1900-01 and ended his talk with a slide show of flashlight photographs. Wilbur's speech is the first public account of the Wright brothers' experiments. A report was published in the Journal of the Society, a report later published separately as an appendix entitled Some Aeronautical Experiments in an edition of 300 copies.

Lilienthal had done "arm-twisting" tests on only a few wing shapes, and the Wright brothers thought that data held true for their wings, which were shaped differently. The Wright brothers took a big step forward and did basic wind tunnel tests on 200 wings of various shapes and profiles, followed by detailed tests on 38 of them. According to biographer Fred Howard, these tests "were the most important and fruitful aeronautical experiments ever conducted in such a short time, with so few materials and at such little expense." An important discovery was the advantage of narrower wings: in aeronautical terms, wings with a greater aspect ratio(d) (wing span divided by chord(d)-the front-to-side dimension of the wing). Such shapes offer much better aerodynamic smoothness(d) than the wider wings the brothers had tried before.

With this information, and a more accurate Smeaton number, the Wright brothers designed the 1902 glider. Using another crucial discovery from the wind tunnel, they made the airfoil flatter, reduced the relative thickness (the thickness of the wing curvature divided by the chord). The 1901 wings had significantly more curvature, an extremely inefficient feature that the Wright brothers had copied directly from Lilienthal. Fully confident in the new wind tunnel results, the Wright brothers discarded Lilienthal's data and now based their designs on their own calculations.

With characteristic caution, the brothers first flew the 1902 glider as a kite, with no man on board, as they had done with the two previous versions. Work on the wind tunnel paid off, and the glider produced the expected lift. It also had a new structural feature: a fixed vertical rudder at the rear, which the brothers hoped would eliminate turning problems.

In 1902 they understood that wing twist creates "differential drag" at the wing tips. Higher lift at one wingtip also produced increased drag, which slowed that wingtip, causing the glider to pivot-or "turn"-so that the nose would point in the opposite direction of the turn. This is how the tail-less glider behaved in 1901.

The improved wing design allowed for longer and longer glides, and the rear rudder prevented opposing gybes-so effectively that it introduced a new problem. Sometimes, when the pilot tried to level off after a turn, the glider would not respond to corrective wing twist and would persist in a tighter turn. The glider would slide to the bottom wing side, which would hit the ground, spinning the aircraft. Wrights called this phenomenon "fountain digging".

Orville apparently visualized that the fixed rudder was resisting the effect of the corrective twist of the wings when trying to level the aircraft out of a turn. He wrote in his diary that on the night of October 2, "I studied a new vertical rudder". The brothers decided to make the rear rudder movable to solve the problem. They hooked the rudder into the hinges and connected it to the pilot's turning "cradle" so that a single movement by the pilot simultaneously controlled the wing twist and rudder deflection. Glide tests showed that the trailing edge of the rudder had to be turned away from the wing with the higher drag (and lift) due to the twist. The counter-pressure produced by rudder rotation allowed corrective wing twist to restore straight flight after a turn or wind disturbance. In addition, when the glider banked in a turn, the rudder pressure overcame the effect of differential drag and steered the nose of the aircraft in the direction of the turn, eliminating the adverse turn.

In short, the Wright brothers discovered the true purpose of the vertical movable rudder. Its role was not to change direction of flight (like a rudder in navigation), but rather to right or align the aircraft correctly during banked turns and wind disturbances. The actual turning-change of direction-was done by controlling the roll by twisting the wings. The principles remained the same when the aerofoils replaced the twisting wings.

With their new method, the Wright brothers first truly achieved turn control on October 8, 1902, a major milestone. From 19 September to 24 October, they made between 700 and 1,000 glides, the longest being 26 seconds over a distance of 189.7 metres. Hundreds of properly controlled glides after making the rudder steerable convinced them they were ready to build a self-propelled flying machine.

This is how three-axis control(d) evolved: wing twist for roll (side-to-side movement), front elevator for pitch (up and down) and rear rudder for gyration (side-to-side). On March 23, 1903, Wright applied for their famous patent for a "flying machine" based on their successful 1902 glider. Some aviation historians believe that the application of the three-axis flight control system in 1902 was just as important, if not more important, than the addition of self-propulsion to the 1903 glider. Peter Jakab of the Smithsonian says that the 1902 glider refinement is essentially the invention of the airplane.

Adding propulsion

In 1903, the brothers built the self-propelled Wright Flyer I, using their favorite building material, spruce, a strong, lightweight wood, and Pride of the West muslin for surface covering. They also designed and carved their own wooden propellers, and manufactured a special gasoline engine in their bike shop. They thought propeller design would be a simple matter and intended to adapt data from the shipbuilding industry. However, library research revealed no set formula for either air or ship propellers, and they found themselves at a loss for a starting point. They discussed and debated the issue, sometimes heatedly, until they came to the conclusion that an aeronautical propeller propeller is essentially still a kind of wing that rotates in a vertical plane. On that basis, they used data from other wind tunnel tests to design their propellers as well. The finished blades were about two and a half metres long, and made from three glued spruce planks. The Wright brothers decided to use a pair of pusher propellers(d) (counter-rotating to cancel each other's kinetic momentum), which would act on a larger amount of air than a single relatively slow propeller and would not disturb the airflow along the edge of the wings.

The Wright brothers approached several engine manufacturers, but none could satisfy their need for a sufficiently light propeller. They turned to their workshop mechanic, Charlie Taylor(r), who built an engine in just six weeks, consulting closely with the brothers. To keep weight down, the engine block was cast from aluminum, a rare practice at the time. The Wright engine

Propeller drive chains(d), similar to bicycle drive chains, were supplied by an automotive chain manufacturer. The flyer cost less than a thousand dollars, in contrast to government funding of more than $50,000 awarded to Samuel Langley(d) for his Great Aerodrome(d) for passenger transport. The Flyer had a wingspan of 12.3 m, weighed 274 kg and had a 12 horsepower (8.9 kW) 82 kg engine.

First powered flight

At Kill Devil Hills camp, he had to wait a few weeks because the propeller shaft failed during engine testing. After the shafts were replaced (for which he had to go back to Dayton twice), Wilbur won a coin flip and made a three-second flight attempt on December 14, 1903, but stalled the engine after takeoff and caused minor damage to the Flyer. (Since December 13, 1903 fell on a Sunday, the brothers did not make any attempts that day, even though the weather was good, so the first powered test flight took place on the 121st anniversary of the Montgolfier brothers' first test flight, December 14, 1782. ) In a message to his family, Wilbur announced that the test was "only partially successful," stating that it "has a lot of power, and if it were not for a little mistake due to lack of experience with this machine and method of starting, the machine would certainly have flown beautifully." After repairs, the Wright brothers returned to flight on December 17, 1903, each making two flights with takeoffs from flat ground, with a cold headwind of 43 km

Wilbur began his fourth and final flight at 12 noon. The first few hundred feet were up and down, as before, but about the time he had done 300 feet, the machine was much better controlled. The course for the next four or five hundred feet had only a few undulations. When it got to about 800 feet, however, the car went into a dive again and, in one of the dips, hit the ground. Ground clearance was measured at 852 feet; the flight lasted 59 seconds. The frame supporting the front rudder was badly damaged, but the main part of the car was not damaged at all. I estimate that the car can be brought into flying condition again in a day or two.

Five people witnessed the flights: Adam Etheridge, John T. Daniels(d) (who took the famous "first flight" photo using Orville's position camera) and Will Dough, all of the U.S. Coast Guard Coast Guard lifeguard crew; local contractor W. C. Brinkley; and Johnny Moore, a teenager who lived in the area.After the men pulled the Flyer back after the fourth flight, a strong gust of wind flipped it over several times, despite the crew's efforts to keep it down. Badly damaged, the plane never flew again. The brothers sent it home, and after several years Orville restored it, loaning it to several US locations for display, then to a British museum (see below about the Smithsonian dispute), before it was finally installed in 1948 at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, its current home.

The Wright brothers sent a telegram to their father about the flights, asking him to "inform the press". But the Dayton Journal refused to publish the story, saying the flights were too short to be important. Meanwhile, against the brothers' wishes, a telegraph operator leaked their message to a Virginia newspaper, which concocted a wildly inaccurate story that was reprinted the next day in several newspapers elsewhere, including Dayton.

The Wright Brothers issued their own factual press release in January. But the flights didn't create much emulation-people didn't even know about them-and soon the news died down. In Paris, however, members of the Aéro-Club de France, already spurred on by Chanute's accounts of the Wright brothers' glider successes, took the venture more seriously and stepped up their efforts to catch up with the brothers.

Modern analyses by Professor Fred E. C. Culick and Henry R. Jex (in 1985) have shown that the 1903 Wright Flyer was so unstable that it was almost impossible to handle by anyone other than the Wright brothers, who had trained on the 1902 glider. In an attempt to recreate the event 100 years later, on December 17, 2003, Kevin Kochersberger, flying an exact replica, failed to repeat the success the Wright brothers had with their piloting expertise.

Establishing legitimacy

In 1904, the Wright brothers built Flyer II. They decided to avoid the expense of travel and bringing supplies to the Outer Banks and set up an airfield at Huffman Prairie(d), a cattle pasture eight miles northeast of Dayton. They received permission to use the land free of charge from its owner, Torrance Huffman, a bank executive. They then invited reporters to their first test flight of the year on May 23, on the condition that no photos be taken. Engine problems and light winds prevented any flight, and the two only managed a short hop a few days later, with fewer reporters present. Historian Fred Howard of the Library of Congress has recorded some speculation that the brothers may have intentionally failed to make reporters lose interest in their experiments. It is not known if this is so, but after their poor performance, the local newspapers virtually ignored them for a year and a half.

The Wright Brothers enjoyed the freedom from the distraction produced by reporters. The lack of reporters also reduced the chances of competitors finding out their methods. After the Kitty Hawk-powered flights, the Wright brothers decided to start retiring from the bicycle business to concentrate on creating and marketing a practical airplane. This was a financial risk, as the two were neither wealthy nor government-funded (as were other experimenters such as Ader, Maxim(d), Langley and Alberto Santos-Dumont). The Wright brothers didn't have the luxury of being able to give their invention to others; they were going to make a living from it. So they stepped up secrecy, at the encouragement of patent attorney Henry Toulmin(d)'s advice not to reveal details of their machine.

At Huffman Prairie, the lighter winds made takeoffs more difficult, so they needed a longer takeoff support than the 60-foot one used at Kitty Hawk. The first flights in 1904 revealed problems with longitudinal stability, which were solved by adding ballast and lengthening the supports for lift. In the spring and summer, they suffered many hard landings, often damaging the aircraft and causing minor injuries. On August 13, they made an unassisted takeoff, Wilbur finally surpassing the best results from Kitty Hawk with a 400 m flight.Then they decided to use a weighted catapult to make takeoffs easier and tried it for the first time on September 7. On September 20, 1904, Wilbur flew the first full circle in history in a powered, heavier-than-air aircraft with a man aboard, covering 1,244 m in about a minute and a half. Their two best flights were made on November 9 by Wilbur and December 1 by Orville, each exceeding five minutes and covering nearly two miles in nearly four circles.By the end of the year, the brothers had accumulated about 50 minutes of flying time in 105 flights over the rather wet 34-acre pasture, which, remarkably, is virtually unchanged today, and is part of the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park(d), located near Wright-Patterson Air Force Base(d).

The Wright brothers scrapped the stricken and damaged plane, but kept the engine, and in 1905 built a new plane, the Flyer III. However, at first this Flyer offered the same marginal performance as the first two. The inaugural flight was on June 23, and the first flights lasted no more than 10 seconds. After Orville suffered a bone-breaking accident and could have died on July 14, they rebuilt the Flyer with the forward elevator and rear rudder enlarged and placed a little further from the wings. They also installed a separate control for the rear rudder instead of tying it to the wing twist "cradle" as before. Each of the three axes-engagement, roll, and gyration-now had its own independent control.These changes improved stability and control, which allowed for a series of six dramatic "long flights" ranging from 17 to 38 minutes and 17 to 39 km around the one-kilometer field over Huffman Prairie between September 26 and October 5. Wilbur made the last and longest flight, 39.4 km in 38 minutes and 3 seconds, ending with a safe landing when he ran out of fuel. The flight was seen by several people, including several invited friends, their father Milton, and surrounding farmers.

Reporters showed up the next day (only their second appearance on the ground since May of the previous year), but the brothers refused to fly. The long flights convinced the Wright brothers that they had fulfilled their goal of creating a "practical utility" flying machine that they could offer for sale.

The only photographs of the 1904-1905 flights were taken by the brothers. (A few photos were damaged in the Great Dayton Flood(d) of 1913, but most survived intact.) In 1904, Ohio beekeeping entrepreneur Amos Root(d), a technology enthusiast, saw several flights, including the first hoop flight. Articles he wrote for his beekeeping magazine were the only published eyewitness accounts of the flights at Huffman Prairie, except for the unimpressive earlier leap seen by journalists. Root offered a report to Scientific American magazine, but the editor declined. As a result, the news was not known outside Ohio, and was often met with skepticism. The Paris edition of the Herald Tribune newspaper in 1906 headlined an article about the Wright brothers "Flyers or Liars?"

In years to come, Dayton newspapers would proudly celebrate the Wright brothers' hometown as national heroes, but local reporters missed one of the most important stories in history as it unfolded just miles from their doorstep. James Middleton Cox(d), then editor of the Dayton Daily News(d) (later governor of Ohio and presidential candidate for the Democrats in 1920), expressed the attitude of journalists-and the public-in those days when he admitted after years: "frankly, none of us believed it."

A few newspapers published articles about the long flights, but no reporters or photographers were there. The lack of abundant eyewitness accounts in the press was a major source of distrust in Washington, D.C., and in Europe, and at magazines such as Scientific American, whose editors doubted the "alleged experiments" and wondered how American newspapers, "as careful as they are, let these sensational spectacles slip by."

In October 1904 the brothers received the visit of the first important European with whom they were to become friends in the following years, Colonel J. E. Capper(d), who was to become superintendent of the Royal Balloon Factory(d). Capper and his wife were visiting the United States to investigate aeronautical exhibits at the St. Louis World Fair(d), but received a letter of recommendation for both Chanute and the Wright brothers from Patrick Alexander(d). Claudia was very impressed with the Wright brothers, who showed her photos of the aircraft in flight.

The Wright brothers were certainly complicit in the lack of attention they received. Fearing that their ideas would be stolen by competitors, and still without a patent, they flew off in a single day after October 5. Since then, they have refused to fly anywhere unless they had a firm contract to sell the machines. They wrote to the US government, then to the UK, France and Germany, with an offer to sell a flying machine, but were rejected because they insisted on a signed contract before they would demonstrate. They were even willing to display photos of the Flyer in the air. The US military had recently spent $50,000 on the Langley Aerodrome-a product of the country's foremost scientist-just to see it crash twice into the Potomac River "like a fistful of mortar," and was particularly resistant to the demands of the two unknown Ohio bicycle craftsmen. Thus, in the face of scorn and doubt, the Wright brothers continued their work in semi-obscurity, while other aviation pioneers like Santos-Dumont, Henri Farman, Léon Delagrange(d) and American Glenn Curtiss(d) entered the spotlight.

By 1906, skeptics in the European aviation community had convinced the press to take a stand against the Wright brothers. European newspapers, especially those in France, openly mocked them as bluffers.

Ernest Archdeacon(d), founder of the Aéro-Club de France, publicly derided the brothers' claims despite published reports; namely, he wrote several articles and, in 1906, declared that "the French will make the first public demonstration of powered flight".

The Paris edition of the New York Herald(d) summed up Europe's opinion of the Wright brothers in an editorial of February 10, 1906: "The Wright brothers either flew or they did not fly. They either have an apparatus or they have not. Either they fly or they lie. Flying is hard. Saying 'I flew' is easy."

In 1908, after the Wright brothers' first flights to France, Archdeacon publicly admitted that he had done them an injustice.

The Wright brothers did not make any flights in 1906 and 1907. They spent their time trying to convince US and European governments that they had invented a successful flying machine and were prepared to negotiate a contract to sell such machines. They also experimented with a pontoon and but an engine configuration on the Miami River (Ohio) in the hope of being able to take off from the water. These experiments proved unsuccessful.

In response to the Wright brothers' letters, the US military has virtually expressed disinterest in their claims. The brothers then turned their attention to Europe, particularly France, where enthusiasm for aviation was high, and traveled there for the first time in 1907 for face-to-face discussions with government officials and businessmen. They also met there with aviation representatives from Germany and the U.K. Before the trip, Orville shipped a newly built Model A(d) Flyer to France in anticipation of demonstration flights.

In France, Wilbur met Frank P. Lahm(d), a lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Division(d). He wrote to his superiors, paving the way for an in-person presentation Wilbur gave to the US Artillery and Fortifications Board in Washington, DC upon his return home. This time, the Council was impressed, unlike his previous indifference. With more information from the Wright brothers, the U.S. Army Signal Corps(d) issued the specification

Their contracts required flying with one passenger, so they modified the 1905 Flyer by installing two seats and adding vertical control levers. After tests with sandbags in the passenger seat, Charlie Furnas(d), a Dayton helper, became the first passenger in a fixed-wing aircraft on a few short flights on May 14, 1908. For safety, and as a promise to their father, Wilbur and Orville did not fly together. However, several newspapers at the time erroneously reported a flight by Orville with Furnas as both brothers flying together. Later that day, after a seven-minute solo flight, Wilbur suffered his worst accident when-still unfamiliar with the two new control levers-he apparently moved one the wrong way and crashed the Flyer into the sand at a speed of 65-80 km

Return to gliding

In October 1911, Orville Wright returned to the Outer Banks to conduct safety and stabilization tests with a new glider(d). On October 24, he soared for nine minutes and 45 seconds, a record that stood for nearly 10 years when gliding emerged as a sport in the 1920s.

The brothers' contracts with the US Army and the French consortium depended on the success of public flight demonstrations, made under certain conditions. The brothers had to share their efforts. Wilbur sailed for Europe; Orville was to fly near Washington, DC.

Faced with much scepticism from the French aviation community and simply scorned by some newspapers as a bluffer, Wilbur began formal public demonstrations on 8 August 1908 at the Hunaudières racecourse near Le Mans, France. His first flight lasted only a minute and 45 seconds, but his ability to easily make banked turns and circling flights amazed onlookers, including several French aviation pioneers, including Louis Blériot. Over the next few days, Wilbur made a number of technically challenging flights, including figure eights, demonstrating his piloting skills and the capability of his flying machine, which far exceeded those of all other machines and pilots of the time.

The French public were delighted with Wilbur's achievements and flocked to the racecourse by the thousands, and the Wright brothers immediately became world famous. Former skeptics apologized and praised them exuberantly. L'Aérophile(d) editor Georges Besançon wrote that the flights "completely dispelled all doubts. None of the Wright brothers' former detractors dare today to question the earlier experiments of those who were truly the first to fly ..." French aviation promoter Ernest Archdeacon writes: "for a long time the Wright brothers were accused in Europe of bluffing ... Today they are celebrated in France, and feel an intense pleasure ... to retract."

On October 7, 1908, Edith Berg, the wife of the couple's European business agent, became the first American passenger when she flew with Wilbur-one of many passengers who traveled with him that fall. Wilbur also met Léon Bollée(d) and his family. Bollée owned an automobile factory where Wilbur would assemble the Flyer and receive paid help. Bollée was to fly that fall with Wilbur. Mrs. Bollée was in her last months of pregnancy when Wilbur arrived at LeMans in June 1908 to assemble the Flyer. Wilbur promised that he would make his first European flight on the day his child was born, as he did, on August 8, 1908.

Orville followed his brother's success by demonstrating another nearly identical Flyer to the United States Army at Fort Myer(d), Virginia, beginning September 3, 1908. On September 9, he made his first one-hour flight, lasting 62 minutes and 15 seconds.

On September 17, Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge(r) went as a passenger, serving as an official observer. A few minutes into the flight, at an altitude of about 100 feet, a propeller detached and broke, and the Flyer went out of control. Selfridge suffered a skull fracture in the crash and died that evening near the military hospital, becoming the first person to die in a plane crash. Orville was also seriously injured, suffering a fractured left leg and four broken ribs. Twelve years later, after increasingly severe pain, an X-ray revealed that the accident had also resulted in three fractured hip bones and a dislocated hip. His sister, Katharine, a schoolteacher, rushed from Dayton to Virginia and stayed by Orville's bedside during his seven-week hospitalization. She helped him negotiate a one-year extension on his Army contract. A friend visiting Orville in the hospital asked him, "Did it take courage?" "Courage?" repeated Orville, slightly puzzled. "Oh, you mean will I be afraid to fly again? The only thing I'm afraid of is that I won't be able to get well in time and that I'll have to finish my tests next year."

Deeply shocked and affected by the accident, Wilbur became determined to make even more impressive flight demonstrations; over the following days and weeks, he set new altitude and duration records. In January 1909, Orville and Katharine joined him in France, and for a time they were three of the most famous people in the world, sought after by kings, the rich, reporters and the public. Kings from the UK, Spain and Italy came to see Wilbur fly.

The Wright brothers traveled to Pau, in the south of France, where Wilbur made many more public flights, giving rides to numerous officers, journalists and statesmen-and to his sister, Katharine, on February 15. He trained two French pilots, then transferred the plane to French ownership. In April, the Wright brothers went to Italy, where Wilbur assembled another Flyer, giving demonstrations and instruction to several pilots. An Italian cameraman, Federico Valle(r), climbed aboard and filmed the first footage from a plane.

After their return to the US, the brothers and Katharine were invited to the White House, where President Taft presented them with decorations. The city of Dayton followed with a lavish ceremony and a two-day party. In July 1909, assisted by Wilbur, Orville flew demonstration flights for the US Army, fulfilling the requirements of a two-seat aircraft capable of flying one passenger for an hour at an average speed of 40 miles (65 km).

Family flights

On May 25, 1910, back at Huffman Prairie, Orville flew two unique flights. First, he took off on a six-minute flight with Wilbur as a passenger, the only time the Wright brothers flew together. They received permission from their father to make the flight. They had always promised Milton that they would not fly together to avoid the chance of a double tragedy and to ensure that one brother would stay to continue the experiments. Then Orville took his 82-year-old father on a nearly seven-minute flight, the only flight of Milton Wright's life. The plane soared to over 100 m as the elder Wright called to his son, "Higher, Orville, higher!"

The Wright brothers wrote their own patent application(d) in 1903, but it was rejected. In January 1904 they hired Ohio patent attorney Henry Toulmin, and on May 22, 1906 they received U.S. Patent 821393 for "new and useful improvements in flying machines".

The patent illustrates a non-self-propelled flying machine-namely the 1902 glider. The importance of the patent lies in its assertion of a new and useful method of controlling a flying machine, whether self-propelled or not. The technique of wing twisting is described, but the patent explicitly states that other methods can be used instead of wing twisting to adjust the outer portions of a machine's wings to different angles to the right and left to achieve lateral (roll) control. The concept of varying the angle presented to the air near the wings by any suitable method is essential to the patent. The patent also describes the rearward-steerable vertical rudder and its innovative use in combination with wing twist, which allows the aircraft to make a coordinated turn, a technique that prevents dangerous adverse(d) gyrations, a problem Wilbur had when attempting to turn with his 1901 glider. Finally, the patent describes the forward elevator, used for climb and descent.

Trials begin

Attempting to circumvent the patent, Glenn Curtiss and other aviators designed helos that emulated the lateral control described in the patent and demonstrated by Wright in public flights.Shortly after Curtiss's historic July 4, 1908, one-mile flight in June Bug(d), the Wright brothers warned him not to infringe their patent by selling or otherwise dealing in aircraft using helos.

Curtiss was then a member of the Aerial Experiment Association(d) (AEA), headed by Alexander Graham Bell, where he had helped in 1908 to reinvent the wingtip helium for Aerodrome No. 2, known as the White Wing(d) (they later came to believe that he had sold the rights to their joint innovation to the United States government).

Curtiss refused to pay the Wright brothers a license fee and sold a heli-equipped aircraft to the Aeronautic Society of New York in 1909. The Wright brothers sued, beginning a years-long legal dispute. They also sued foreign aviators who flew at exhibitions in the US, including French aviator Louis Paulhan(d). Curtiss's people wryly suggested that if someone jumps in the air and waves their hands, the Wright brothers will sue.

European companies that had bought foreign patents received by the Wright brothers also sued other manufacturers in their countries. These lawsuits were only partially successful. Despite a decision in favour of the Wright brothers in France, legal manoeuvring lasted until the patent expired in 1917. A German court ruled that the patent was invalid because of prior disclosure in speeches by Wilbur Wright in 1901 and Chanute in 1903. In the US, Wright reached an agreement with the Aero Club of America(d) to license Club-approved demonstrations, relieving participating pilots of legal liability. The promoters of the approved shows paid licenses to the Wright brothers.The Wright brothers initially won their case against Curtiss in February 1913, when a judge ruled that the helos were covered by the patent. Curtiss's company appealed.

From 1910 until his death from typhoid fever in 1912, Wilbur took a leading role in the patent fight, traveling tirelessly to consult with lawyers and testify in what he felt was a moral cause, particularly against Curtiss, who was building a large aircraft manufacturing company. The Wright brothers' preoccupation with the legal issue, however, stifled their work on new designs, and by 1911 Wright planes were considered inferior to those of European manufacturers. Indeed, U.S. aviation development was so suppressed that when the U.S. entered World War I, no acceptable U.S.-designed planes were available, and American forces were forced to use French aircraft. Orville and Katharine Wright believed that Curtiss was partly responsible for Wilbur's untimely death, which came as a result of grueling travel and the stress of legal battles.

Victory and cooperation

In January 1914, a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the verdict against Curtiss's company, which continued to avoid legal sanctions through legal tactics. Orville apparently was satisfied with the decision and, much to the frustration of company executives, did not vigorously push for further legal action to secure a monopoly on production. In fact, he was plotting the sale of the company and left in 1915. In 1917, when World War I was in progress, the U.S. government pressured the industry to form a cross-licensing organization, the Manufacturers Aircraft Association, to which member companies paid a flat fee for the use of aviation patents, including the Wright Brothers' patents (the first and later ones). The Wright-Martin Company (successor to the Wright Company) and the Curtiss Company (which also held a number of patents) each received $2 million. The "patent war(d)" was over, although side issues remained debated in the courts until the 1920s. Ironically, Wright Aeronautical(d) (another successor) and Curtiss Aeroplane merged in 1929 to form Curtiss-Wright(d), which still operates today, producing high-tech components for the aerospace industry.

Aviation historian Charles Harvard Gibbs-Smith(d) has stated several times that the Wright brothers' legal victory would have been "doubtful" if an 1868 patent of an "earlier but lost invention" by Matthew Piers Watt Boulton(d) of the United Kingdom had been known in 1903-1906. The patent, entitled Aërial Locomotion &c, described several improvements and conceptual engine designs, and included a technical description and drawings for a helium control system(d) with optional functionality that functioned as an autopilot. In fact, this patent was well known to participants in the Wright-Curtiss trial. A federal judge who reviewed prior inventions and patents and upheld the Wright patent against Curtiss had reached the opposite conclusion from Gibbs-Smith, stating that the Boulton patent "does not anticipate".

Public reactions

The trials damaged the public image of the Wright brothers, who until then had generally been considered heroes. Critics called the brothers greedy and unfair and compared their actions unfavorably to the more openly working European inventors. Their supporters said the brothers were protecting their legitimate interests and that they were justified in expecting fair compensation for years of work that led to a successful invention. Their 10-year friendship with Octave Chanute, already strained by disagreements over how much credit they deserved for their success, collapsed after he publicly criticized their actions.

The Wright Company(d) was established on November 22, 1909. The brothers sold their patents to the company for $100,000 and also received a one-third interest in a $1 million stock issue and a 10 percent royalty on each airplane sold. With Wilbur as president and Orville as vice president, the company set up a factory in Dayton and a flight school(headquarters were in New York City.

In mid-1910, the Wright brothers changed the design for the Wright Flyer, moving the horizontal downdraft from the front to the rear and adding wheels, although they kept the skids as part of the running gear unit. It became apparent by then that a rear-mounted elevator would make the plane easier to control, especially as higher speeds became more common. The new version was named "Model B", although the original canard design had never been named "Model" by the Wright brothers. However, the U.S. Army Signal Corps, which bought the plane, called it the "Wright Type A".

There weren't many customers for airplanes, so in the spring of 1910 the Wright brothers hired and trained a team(d) of salaried show pilots to demonstrate their machines and win prize money for the company-despite Wilbur's disdain for what he called the "saloon business." The team debuted at the Indianapolis Speedway on June 13. By the end of the year, drivers Ralph Johnstone(d) and Arc Hoxsey(d) had died in crashes at airshows, and in November 1911 the brothers disbanded the nine-man team (four other former team members died in crashes afterward).

The Wright Company made the first known commercial air freight on November 7, 1910, carrying two bales of silk dress goods 105 miles from Dayton to Columbus, Ohio, for Morehouse-Martens Department Store, which paid $5,000. The company pilot, Phil Parmelee(r), made the flight-more an advertising exercise than a simple delivery-in an hour and six minutes with the merchandise strapped into the passenger seat. The silk was cut into small pieces and sold as a souvenir.

Between 1910 and 1916 the Wright Flying School(d) at Huffman Prairie trained 115 pilots, who were trained by Orville and his assistants. Several trainees became famous, including Henry "Hap" Arnold(d), who became a five-star general, commanded the U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II, and became the first chief of the U.S. Air Force; Calbraith Perry Rodgers(d), who made the first coast-to-coast flight in 1911 (with many stops and crashes) in a Wright Model EX-named "Vin Fiz(d); and Eddie Stinson, founder of Stinson(d).

Army accidents

In 1912-1913 a series of fatal crashes of Wright planes purchased by the US Army called into question their safety and design. The death toll had reached 11 by 1913, half of them in Wright Model C's. All six of the Army's Model C planes crashed. They tended to dive, but Orville insisted that these were caused by pilot error. He cooperated with the Army to equip the planes with a rudimentary flight indicator to help the pilot avoid steep climbs. A government investigation said the Wright C was "dynamically unsuitable for flight", and the US Army ended the use of propeller thrust planes, including models produced by the Curtiss and Wright companies, in which the engine was located behind the pilot and could crush him in a crash. Orville opposed the switch to manufacturing propeller-drive aircraft(d), concerned that a change in design might threaten the patent infringement lawsuit Wright filed against Curtiss.

Samuel Pierpont Langley(d), secretary of the Smithsonian Institution from 1887 until his death in 1906, had been experimenting with model flying machines for years and even flew miniature models of powered, fixed-wing aircraft without a man on board in 1896 and 1903. Two tests he made with his full-sized, self-propelled, manned Aerodrome in October and December 1903 were, however, total failures. Nevertheless, the Smithsonian would proudly display the Aerodrome in its museum as the first heavier-than-air aircraft "capable" of manned self-propelled flight, pushing the Wright brothers' invention to secondary status and sparking a decades-long feud with Orville Wright, whose brother had received help from the Smithsonian as he began his journey to flight. (Ironically, the Wright brothers had been the original recipients of the Samuel P. Langley Aerodromic Medal(d) from the Smithsonian in 1910.)

The Smithsonian based its claim on brief test flights for the Aerodrome by Glenn Curtiss and his team in 1914. The Smithsonian allowed Curtiss to make major modifications to the aircraft before attempting to fly it.

The Smithsonian hoped to save Langley's aeronautical reputation by proving that the Aerodrome could fly; Curtiss wanted to prove the same thing in order to win the patent lawsuits brought against him by the Wright brothers. The tests had no effect on the patent dispute, but the Smithsonian took full advantage of them, putting the Aerodrome in the spotlight in its museum and publications. The Institute did not disclose Curtiss's extensive modifications, but Orville Wright learned of them from his brother, Lorin, and a close friend of his and Wilbur's, Griffith Brewer, who had witnessed and photographed some of the tests.

Orville repeatedly objected to the distortion of Aerodrome, but the Smithsonian was unyielding. Orville responded by loaning the 1903 Kitty Hawk Flyer to the London Science Museum(d) in 1928, refusing to donate it to the Smithsonian as long as the Institute "perverted" the history of flying machines. Orville was never to see his invention again, as he died before its return to the United States. Charles Lindbergh tried to mediate the dispute, to no avail. In 1942, after years of negative publicity, and encouraged by the Wright brothers' biographer Fred C. Kelly(d), the Smithsonian finally relented, publishing a first-ever list of the modifications made to the Aerodrome and retracting false statements made about the 1914 tests. Orville then privately petitioned the British Museum to return the Flyer, but the plane remained in storage for protection during World War II and finally came home only after Orville's death.

On November 23, 1948, the executors of Orville's estate signed an agreement to purchase the Flyer from the Smithsonian for one dollar. At the insistence of the executors, the agreement also included strict conditions for displaying the Flyer.

The text of the agreement includes the phrases, "neither the Smithsonian Institution nor its successors, nor any museum or other agency, bureau, or organization administered for the United States of America by the Smithsonian Institution or its successors shall publish or permit to be published any statement or label in connection with or relating to any model or design of earlier date of the Wright 1903 airplane, claiming that such an aircraft was capable of transporting a man in a self-propelled controlled flight." If this agreement is not honored, the aircraft may be claimed by the Wright brothers' heirs. Some aviation enthusiasts, particularly those promoting the memory of Gustave Whitehead(d), are now accusing the Smithsonian of refusing to investigate claims of some earlier flights. After a ceremony at the Smithsonian, the Flyer went on public display on December 17, 1948, 45 years to the day after the only day it flew successfully. The Wright brothers' grandson, Milton (Lorin's son), who had seen the gliders and Flyer under construction in the bike shop as a child, gave a brief speech and formally transferred the machine to the Smithsonian, which displayed it alongside the label:


None of the brothers married. Wilbur once joked that he didn't have time for both his wife and the plane. After a brief training flight with a German pilot in Berlin in June 1911, Wilbur never flew again. He gradually became more concerned with business matters for the Wright Company and occupied himself with various lawsuits. While dealing with the patent lawsuits, which put great strain on both brothers, Wilbur wrote in a letter to a French friend: "when we think of what we could have accomplished if we had been able to devote this time to experiments, we feel very sad, but it is always easier to deal with things than with people, and no one can direct his life entirely as he chooses." Wilbur spent the next year before his death traveling, with six months in Europe attending to various business and legal matters. Wilbur urged American cities to do as European ones did - especially in the Parisian philosophy of allocating generous public spaces to nearly every major public building. He also consistently went a long way between New York, Washington and Dayton. All the demands were taking their toll on Wilbur's physique. Orville remarked that he "comes home pale."

The family decided to build a new, much larger house using the money the Wright brothers had earned through their inventions and businesses. Affectionately named Hawthorn Hill(d), construction began in Oakwood, Ohio(d), a suburb of Dayton, while Wilbur was in Europe. Katharine and Orville supervised the project in his absence. Wilbur's only known request for the design of the house was that it have a room with its own bathroom. The brothers hired the architectural firm of Schenck & Williams(d) to design the house, with suggestions from Wilbur and Orville. Wilbur did not live to see its completion in 1914.

He fell ill on a business trip to Boston in April 1912, the illness sometimes attributed to eating spoiled fish at a banquet. After returning from Dayton in early May 1912, with a tired mind and body, he fell ill again and was diagnosed with typhoid fever. He endured for some time, the symptoms recurring for several days. Wilbur died at the age of 45 at the Wright family home on May 30. His father wrote about Wilbur in his diary:

"A short life, full of consequences. A faultless intellect, an imperturbable temperament, of great self-confidence and great modesty, seeing justice clearly, pursuing it steadfastly, he lived and died."


Orville succeeded his brother as president of the Wright Company. Sharing Wilbur's distaste for business but not his brother's and his brother's administrative skills, Orville sold the company in 1915.

After 42 years of living at their residence at 7 Hawthorn Street, Orville, Katharine and their father, Milton, moved to Hawthorn Hill in the spring of 1914. Milton died in his sleep on April 3, 1917, at the age of 88. Until his death, Milton was very active, busy with reading, writing articles for religious publications and taking morning walks. In Dayton, he had also marched in a women's suffrage rally with Orville and Katharine.

Orville made his last flight as a pilot in 1918 in a 1911 Model B. He retired from the business and became an aviation veteran, serving on various official boards and committees including the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics(d) (NACA), predecessor agency to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the Aeronautical Chamber of Commerce (ACCA), predecessor to the Aerospace Industries Association(d) (AIA).

Katharine married Henry Haskell of Kansas City, a former Oberlin classmate, in 1926. Orville was angry and inconsolable, feeling he had been betrayed by Katharine. He refused to attend the wedding or even communicate with them. He finally agreed to see her again, apparently at Lorin's insistence, just before she died of pneumonia on March 3, 1929.

Orville Wright worked in NACA for 28 years. In 1930, he received the first Daniel Guggenheim Medal established in 1928 by the Daniel Guggenheim Fund for the Advancement of Aeronautics. In 1936, he was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

On April 19, 1944, the second Lockheed Constellation(d), piloted by Howard Hughes and TWA(d) President Jack Frye(d), flew from Burbank, California, to Washington, DC in 6 hours and 57 minutes (3680 km - 520 km

Orville's last major project was overseeing the recovery and preservation of the 1905 Wright Flyer III, which historians describe as the first practical airplane.

Orville expressed his sadness in an interview years later for the death and destruction caused by bombers in World War II:

"We dare to hope that he has invented something that will bring lasting peace on earth. But we were wrong ... No, I regret nothing about my role in the invention of the airplane, though no one could lament the destruction it caused more than I do. I think of the airplane the same way I think of fire. I mean I terribly regret the damage caused by fire, but I think it's good for the human race that someone discovered how to light fire and that we learned how to give fire thousands of important uses."

Orville died on 30 January 1948, more than 35 years after his brother, after his second heart attack, after living from the age of the horse-drawn carriage to the dawn of supersonic flight. Both brothers are buried in the family vault at Woodland Cemetery and Arboretum(d). John T. Daniels(d), the Coast Guard officer who took the famous photograph of the first photo flight, died the day after Orville.

The honor of the first flight was also claimed on behalf of Clement Ader, Gustave Whitehead(d), Richard Pearse(d), and Karl Jatho(d) for the various tests documented in 1903 and earlier years. There are also claims of a first flight after 1903 for Traian Vuia and Alberto Santos-Dumont. Supporters of the post-Wright pioneers argue that the techniques used by the Wright brothers disqualify them as authors of the first airplane flight. These techniques were: the launch rail; skids instead of wheels; taking off against the wind; and the post-1903 catapult. Supporters of the Wright brothers argue that the brothers' demonstrated, repeated, controlled and sustained flights entitle them to the title of inventors of the airplane, regardless of these techniques. Aviation historian Charles Harvard Gibbs-Smith was a supporter of the Wright brothers' primacy. He wrote that even a barn door could be made to "fly" a short distance if enough energy was applied to it; he determined that the very limited flight experiments of Ader, Vuia, and others were more likely to have been "powered jumps" rather than fully controlled airplane flights.

The US states of Ohio and North Carolina both boast the Wright brothers and their world-changing inventions-Ohio because the brothers developed the design and built the machines in Dayton, and North Carolina because Kitty Hawk was the site of the Wright brothers' first flight. In a spirit of friendly rivalry, Ohio adopted the slogan "birthplace of aviation" (later "birthplace of aviation pioneers," recognizing not only the Wright brothers but also astronauts John Glenn and Neil Armstrong, both of whom were Ohio natives). The slogan appears on license plates in the state of Ohio(d). North Carolina uses the slogan "first in flight" on license plates.

The site of North Carolina's first flights is preserved as the Wright Brothers National Monument, while their buildings in Ohio are part of the Dayton National Historical Aviation Park. Because the positions of both states have favorable arguments, and because each played a significant role in the history of flight, neither has exclusive claim to the Wright brothers' achievement.

Regardless of the competition between the two states, in 1937 the Wright family's last bicycle shop and home was moved from Dayton to the Henry Ford Museum(d) in Dearborn(d), where it remains today.


  1. Wright brothers
  2. Frații Wright
  3. ^ Neither brother had a middle name.
  4. ^ Imagine din partea Dayton Metro Library. Articolul de ziar se poate citi la "Wright Brothers".
  5. ^ Consiliul a fost surprins când a primit 41 de oferte, întrucât se aștepta doar la una. Niciuna dintre celelalte oferte nu reprezenta o propunere serioasă.
  6. ^ Prima femeie pasager a fost Thérèse Peltier la 8 iulie 1908, când a zburat 200 m cu Léon Delagrange⁠(d) la Milano, Italia.
  7. ^ Traducere a unui citat: „Procesul a luat în cele din urmă sfârșit odată cu începerea Primului Război Mondial, când producătorii de avioane au înființat Manufacturers' Aircraft Association pentru a coordona producția de avioane pe timp de război în Statele Unite și și-au pus brevetele în comun⁠(d) cu aprobarea guvernului SUA. Toate procesele de brevete au încetat automat. Drepturile de licențiere au fost reduse la unu la sută și a început liberul schimb de invenții și idei între toți constructorii de aeronave."
  8. Ермолович Д. И. Англо-русский словарь персоналий. — М.: Рус. яз., 1993. — 336 с. — С. 309
  9. Howard 1988, p. 89.
  10. Jakab 1997, p. 183.
  11. ^ Crouch e Jakab, p. 130.
  12. ^ (EN) Mary Ann Johnson, Following the Footsteps of the Wright Brothers: Their Sites and Stories Symposium Papers, su Wright State University, 2001. URL consultato il 2 ottobre 2011 (archiviato dall'url originale il 7 agosto 2011).
  13. ^ a b Grant, pp. 28, 37, 65.
  14. ^ (EN) Wright Brothers, su American Heritage, 2003. (archiviato dall'url originale il 15 marzo 2010).

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