All Wright, First Flight!

On this date in 1903, the Wright brothers took to the air and ushered in the age of aviation. Their Wright flyer stayed aloft just one second short of a minute. That first manned, powered, controlled flight traversed 852 feet.

Wright Brothers notebook page, December 17, 1903

We’ve written about the Wright brothers before at Lofty Ambitions. Last February, we visited the College Park Aviation Museum and wrote about Wilbur’s stint in College Park HERE. Just over a year ago, we had another post for the impending Wright Brothers Day HERE. And we’re not the only ones whose holiday season includes celebrating Wright Brothers Day on December 17. This morning, we found a piece in The Daily Mirror that we especially enjoyed; check that out HERE.

Wilbur and Orville Wright grew up in Ohio and traced their interest in flying machines to a childhood toy. Wilbur decided not to attend Yale University after he got his teeth knocked out and began caring for his ill mother, and Orville dropped out of high school. In 1882, the two brothers opened a bicycle repair shop and started manufacturing their own brand of bikes four years later. By the turn of the century, they were building gliders and flew at Kitty Hawk, where sand dunes made landings softer and safer. Kitty Hawk is, of course, where they first flew their Wright Flyer as well.

By 1906, the Wright brothers were trying to negotiate contracts to sell their flying contraptions. Two years later, they began flying demonstrations to prove their machines to prospective buyers. That fall, the first woman to fly hopped aboard one of those demonstration flights. Sadly, another demonstration led to the first airplane crash fatality: Thomas Selfridge, age 26. Orville spent seven weeks in the hospital as a result of his injuries in the crash, and his sister Katharine helped nurse him back to health.

Wilbur died of typhoid fever at age 45, after which Orville led their company and Katharine became an officer until 1915, when he sold it. He served on the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), which later became what we know as NASA. Orville took his last flight in 1944, in a Lockheed Constellation piloted by Howard Hughes (read about Hughes HERE). After years of estrangement after his sister married, Orville was at Katharine’s bedside when she died in 1929. Orville himself died in January of 1948 of a heart attack.

Celebrate Wright Brothers Day today! Take a look at the Smithsonian’s exhibit at the National Air & Space Museum in person or online HERE. Better yet, ride a bike, watch takeoffs and landings at your local airport, or order a flight of beer or wine and raise a glass to this pair of aviation innovators!

2 thoughts on “All Wright, First Flight!

  1. I was at Kitty Hawk for the 100th anniversary. About 40,000 others attended, too. The weather was remarkably warm for that time of year, and wet. The launch of the re-creation of the Flyer was delayed because of rain, but no one left. We wanted to urge the bird into the air. Alas, the conditions were just not right for the tiny engine and the airfoil design. No wind, damp air.The Flyer chugged down the track and slid off into a puddle without gaining any air. 40,000+ voices all uttered a sigh at once. Still, the day was a success for those of us standing on aviation’s holy ground. We WERE THERE!

    1. Great to hear about your experience at Kitty Hawk. Your recounting reminds us a little of being at NASA for a shuttle scrub–that disappointment, but really thrilled to be there anyway. We have yet to get to Kitty Hawk, but we never know what’s next.

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