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!