World’s First Airplane


“Orville Wright at Fort Myer Sept. 9, 1909 NARA111-SC-004499-ac” by over 26 MILLION views Thanks is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

By: Caron Cockerham, Journalist

Have you ever wondered what the first airplane was, or who made it? The Wright brothers started the world’s first successful flights of a powered heavier-than-air flying machine. The Wright Flyer was the product of 4 years’ worth of research and development conducted by Wilbur and Orville Wright starting in 1899.

After building and testing three gliders, their first powered airplane flew at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on December 17, 1903, making a 12-second flight, traveling 36 m (120 ft), with Orville piloting.

Design & Specifications

The Wright brothers built a 12-horsepower engine to power two propellers behind the wings of their flyer. A chain-and-sprocket transmission system connected the engine to the propellers so it could turn them. Muslin fabric covered the spruce and ash wood that formed the framework of the flyer. The aircraft had a wingspan of 40 feet, 4 inches (12.3 meters); a length of 21 feet (6.4 m); a height of 9 feet, 3 inches (2.8 m); and a weight of 605 lbs. (274 kilograms).

Other Milestones

Some of the major milestones since then (according to Air & Space Smithsonian) include the first carrier ship landing, in 1911, the first aerial refueling, in 1923, the first transatlantic plane crossing by a team, in 1919 (Charles Lindbergh did the first solo one, in 1927), the first instrument-only flight, in 1929, and the first flight to break the sound barrier in 1947. Since then, airplanes have in general become safer, quieter and more fuel-efficient.


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