Brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright shared a sense of curiosity and loved tinkering with things. These qualities would eventually put them in the history books.

When they were youngsters, the Wright brothers received a flying toy as a gift from their father. Made of paper, cork and bamboo, the toy was propelled by rubber bands.

Orville and Wilbur spent hours flying the toy back and forth across the room — until they broke it. Saddened, the boys promised each other that someday they would fly in the air, just like their toy.

As the boys grew up, they continued to develop their interest in flight. Orville sold kites to raise money, while Wilbur studied books about how birds flew. Eventually, they began to develop the idea for the flying machine that would become the airplane.

The Wright brothers had begun to make large kites called “gliders.” The gliders rode on air currents but were large enough to carry a person through the air for about 10 seconds before returning to the ground. The brothers were pleased with their invention, but they continued to make improvements to its design.

The next glider had a rudder, which allowed the passenger to steer. During one glide, the glider stayed afloat for more than 600 feet.

With the next round of improvements to the gliders, the brothers decided they wanted the pilot — not gravity — to control when it was time to come back to the ground.

They knew the glider would need an engine, but existing engines were much too heavy. The brothers decided to invent a very light engine that would be strong enough to power the glider but not so heavy that it couldn’t get off the ground. When the glider was ready, the brothers flipped a coin to see who would be the first to test their new invention.

On December 14, 1903, Wilbur Wright climbed into their airplane in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. The brothers selected Kitty Hawk as a test location because it had a lot of wind and a sand dune they hoped would catch the plane if something went wrong. Wilbur’s first flight was brief and ended in a crash.

When it was time for the second test, it was Orville’s turn to get behind the controls of the plane. His flight only lasted 12 seconds.

The brothers flew their plane three times that day. Each flight was slightly longer than the last. Wilbur had the longest — and final — flight of the afternoon. He flew 852 feet over 59 seconds.

Though their flights may not seem like much today, they marked a historical moment. The Wright brothers had invented the airplane.

Today, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association says, on average, there are between 25,000 to 30,000 passenger flights in America each day!


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    • Hi, Skylar! Are you going to try to make the 10 different types of paper airplanes from the link in the “Try it out!” section of this Wonder? Let us know how they turn out and which ones fly the best, fastest and longest! Thanks for visiting Wonderopolis today! :-)

    • Hi there, Sara! We’re not sure, but we’d love to find out more information with your help! Please let us know if you do some more WONDERing of your own! Thanks for visiting us today! :-)

    • That’s a great question, Anthony! Maybe you could find out more information about the Wright Brothers at your library. Keep WONDERing! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Who were the Wright brothers?
  • What inspired the Wright brothers to dream of flying through the air?
  • How many passenger flights take to the skies each day in America?

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Try It Out

Your last name doesn’t have to be Wright to make your own airplane. Use these step-by-step directions to make 10 different paper airplanes, including the Arrow, the Dart, the Stealth and the Moth.

Feel free to experiment with different types of paper, and don’t forget to decorate your planes before they hit the runway!

You also can experiment with your paper airplanes, almost like the Wright brothers did, by seeing how far they fly. Compare the different paper airplanes to see which one goes the farthest.


Still Wondering

Have the Wright brothers inspired your children to invent something? Visit Science NetLinks to explore the impact of inventions and how their development affects our lives — in both good and sometimes bad ways.


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