A Look At The First Airplane Made

An excellent quote to start of the debate to the first airplane made:

"Before the Wright Brothers, no one in aviation did anything fundamentally right. Since the Wright Brothers, no one has done anything fundamentally different."

Darrel Collins, US Park Service, Kitty Hawk National Historical Park

To say simply that the Wright Brothers invented the first airplane made doesn't begin to describe their many accomplishments. Nor is it especially accurate.

The first fixed-wing aircraft made was a kite mounted on a stick and was conceived and flown almost a century before Orville and Wilbur made their first flights, not too mention the kites that were made by the Chinese, a thousand years earler than the Wright Flyer, which could carry a human aloft.

The Wrights have the bragging rights for the first airplane made that could be controlled while it was in the air.

Every successful aircraft ever built since, beginning with the 1902 Wright Flyer, has had controls to roll the wings right or left, pitch the nose up or down, and yaw the nose from side to side.

These three controls -- roll, pitch, and yaw -- let a pilot navigate an airplane in all three dimensions, making it possible to fly from place to place.

The entire aerospace business, the largest industry in the world, depends on this simple but brilliant idea, as do spacecraft, submarines, and even robots.

The Wright Brothers with the Wright Flyer Kitty Hawk, NC In 1896, the newspapers were filled with accounts of primitive flying machines. Wilbur and Orville noticed that all these aircraft lacked suitable control mechanisms. Essentially they were all just gliders with some form of propulsion on them.

They began to wonder how a pilot might balance an aircraft in the air, just as a cyclist balances his bicycle on the road. In 1899, Wilbur devised a simple system that twisted or "warped" the wings of a biplane, causing it to roll right or left. They tested this system in a kite, then a series of gliders.

They made their first test flights at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on the shores of the Atlantic, where the strong winds helped to launch the gliders and the soft sands helped to cushion the fall when they crashed.

Their first two gliders, flown in 1900 and 1901, failed to perform as the Wrights had hoped. The gliders did not provide enough lift nor were they fully controllable.

So during the winter of 1901-1902 Wilbur and Orville built a wind tunnel and conducted experiments to determine the best wing shape for an airplane. (The Wright Brothers were the first to use a wind tunnel in the development of aircraft.)

This enabled them to build a glider with sufficient lift, and concentrate on the problem of control. Toward the end of the 1902 flying season, their third glider became the first fully controllable aircraft, with roll, pitch, and yaw controls.

The Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk, NC During the winter of 1902-1903, with the help of their mechanic, Charlie Taylor, the Wrights designed and built a gasoline engine light enough and powerful enough to propel an airplane. Today, we still see a similar concept in the Rotax Engine for homebuilt airplanes.

They also designed the first true airplane propellers and built a new, powered aircraft around these new advances in technology.

Back in Kitty Hawk, they suddenly found themselves in a race.

Samuel P. Langley, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, had also built a powered aircraft, patterned after a small, unmanned "aerodrome" he had flown successfully in 1896.

To add to their frustrations, the Wrights were delayed by problems with their propeller shafts and the weather, giving Langley time to test his aircraft twice in late 1903.

Both attempts failed miserably, however, and Langley left the field to the Wrights. On December 17, 1903, Wilbur and Orville Wright made the first sustained, controlled flights in a powered aircraft, that became known as the Wright Flyer.

This became known as the first airplane made.

The Silver Dart, Baddeck, Nova Scotia Canada Back in Dayton, Ohio, the brothers found they had much to do to perfect their new invention.

While the 1903 Wright Flyer did indeed fly, (and the first airplane made was subsequently damaged by a gust of wind that blew it over) it was underpowered and difficult to control.

They established the world's first test flight facilities at Huffman Prairie, northeast of Dayton (today, the site of Wright Patterson Air Force Base).

For two years they made flight after flight, fine tuning the controls, engine, propellers, and configuration of their airplane.

At first, they could only fly in a straight line for less than a minute. But by the end of 1905, they were flying figure-eight's over Huffman Prairie, staying aloft for over half an hour, or until their fuel ran out.

The 1905 Wright Flyer was the world's first practical airplane. This is quite an incredible feat of engineering, to take the first airplane made in 1903, which didn't have much controlability, to an airplane in 1905 that was flying figure eights and staying aloft for 30 plus minutes.

I would suspect that all those replicas of the Wright Flyer are in fact not the replicas of the first airplane made but in fact replicas of the 1905 version.

The Silver Dart, Baddeck, Nova Scotia Canada

On December 17, 1903 history was made at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

The worlds first airplane was made, and she had her maiden flight that same day.

The plane was made of wood, fabric, and metal tubing, that was commonly seen in bicycles. But when this is all the materials you have at the time you make the best of the situation, which the Wright Brothers did.

There is some argument as to who invented the airplane. There is equally arguments as to who made the first airplane.

I believe that the two go hand in hand. If you are the first to invent the airplane then you are obviously have the first airplane made. But that is my opinion and you must formulate your own opinion as to the first airplane made.

The First Airplane Invented - A look at the first airplane invented.

Who Invented The Airplane? I'll present some arguments, you make an opinion!

World War 1 Airplanes - A bried glimpse at a storied past

World War 2 Airplanes - Another brief glimpse into a different storied past.

Aviation History Timeline - A Chronological Order to Important Events in The History of Aviation.

Famous Airplanes - A Look At Some Renowned Airplanes From Our Past.

Return from First Airplane Made to History of Flight

Return To Homepage