Featured Artifact Wright Flyer

Kitty Hawk, North Carolina; December 17, 1903

Artifact Wright Brothers First Flying Machine

The Wright Flyer sometimes called Flyer I or 1903 Flyer, was the first successful heavier-than-air powered aircraft. The Wright Flyer designed and built by the Wright brothers, Orville and Wilbur Wright. They flew it four times on December 17, 1903, near Kill Devil Hills, about four miles south of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, U.S. Today, the airplane is exhibited in the National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C.

Front view of Wright Flyer, Washington, D.C.

Front view of Wright Flyer, Washington, D.C.

The Wright Flyer is on display in the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space museum in an exhibit titled “The Wright Brothers and the Invention of the Aerial Age“. The Smithsonian Institution describes the aircraft as “…the first powered, heavier-than-air machine to achieve controlled, sustained flight with a pilot aboard.”

WrightFlyer4thFlight

This photograph depicts The Flyer on its last flight of December 17, 1903. The Library of Congress caption for this photograph reads, in part, ‘Distant view of the Wright aircraft just after landing, taken from the starting point…’ A closer analysis of the image indicates that The Flyer is actually still aloft, about 17 seconds into the flight, approximately 250 feet distant from the end of the launching track at an altitude of about 10 feet, with about another 600 feet and 42 seconds yet to go
Taking turns, the Wrights made four brief, low-altitude flights that day. The flight paths were all essentially straight; turns were not attempted. Each flight ended in a bumpy and unintended “landing”. The last flight, by Wilbur, was 852 feet or 260 m in 59 seconds, much longer than each of the three previous flights of 120, 175 and 200 feet. The landing broke the front elevator supports, which the Wrights hoped to repair for a possible four-mile or 6 km flight to Kitty Hawk village. Soon after, a heavy gust picked up the Flyer and tumbled it end over end, damaging it beyond any hope of quick repair. It was never flown again.

Presentation plaque

Presentation plaque containing portions of the Wright Flyer transported to the Moon and back by Apollo 11. A piece of fabric and wood from the Wright Flyer was taken to the surface of the Moon by the crew of Apollo 11, the first lunar landing mission, in July 1969.

Portions of the original fabric and wood from the flyer traveled to the surface of the moon aboard the Apollo 11 lunar module. Some is on display at the visitors center at the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Separate portions of original wood and fabric were taken by North Carolina native astronaut Michael Smith aboard the space shuttle Challenger on mission STS-51-L which was destroyed on liftoff. The portions of wood and fabric were recovered from the wreck of the shuttle and are on display at the North Carolina Museum of History.

Kitty Hawk, North Carolina; December 17, 1903

Kitty Hawk, North Carolina; December 17, 1903

Wright Brothers First Flight (1903). A Day That Shook The World. Orville and Wilbur Wright’s first recorded flight caught exclusively by British Pathé in 1903. In December 17, news came through that two brothers had flown a curious air machine for more than a minute. To the sceptics, this footage proved that it was true.