It was 109 years ago today that the Wright brothers initiated the aerial age with the world’s first successful flights of a powered heavier-than-air flying machine. The Wright Flyer I was the product of an extremely sophisticated four-year research and development program. Orville and Wilbur Wright began the quest in 1899. After building and testing three full-sized gliders, the Wrights’ first powered airplane flew at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on December 17, 1903, making a 12-second flight, traveling 120 ft, with Orville piloting. The best flight of the day, with Wilbur at the controls, covered 852 ft in 59 seconds.
Wright Flyer I Facts:
Wingspan: 40 ft 4 in
Length: 21 ft 1 in
Height: 9 ft 4 in
Weight: Empty, 605 lb
Gross, 750 lb
The Wright brothers carved their own propeller prototype and believed it to be 66% efficient. Modern tests show it was more than 75% efficient. This is an incredible feat because modern wood propellers are a maximum efficiency of 85%.
The Wright brothers couldn’t find an engine that met their needs for a lightweight engine. Their shop mechanic Charlie Taylor built a cast aluminum (extremely rare at the time) engine in just 6 weeks. The engine also had a primitive version of fuel-injection system having no carburetor or fuel pump.
The Flyer cost less than $1000 to build. Rival Samuel Langley received more than $50,000 to build his plane, The Great Aerodrome.