First Flight

On this date, in 1903, Wilbur and Orville Wright took command of the worlds first powered aircraft, and ushered mankind into the world of flight. Today, we stand on the shoulders of giants!

December 17, 1903, making two flights each from level ground into a freezing headwind gusting to 27 miles per hour. The first flight, by Orville, of 120 feet in 12 seconds, at a speed of only 6.8 miles per hour over the ground, was recorded in a famous photograph. The next two flights covered approximately 175 feet and 200 feet, by Wilbur and Orville respectively. Their altitude was about 10 feet above the ground. The following is Orville Wright's account of the final flight of the day:

Wilbur started the fourth and last flight at just about 12 o'clock. The first few hundred feet were up and down, as before, but by the time three hundred ft had been covered, the machine was under much better control. The course for the next four or five hundred feet had but little undulation. However, when out about eight hundred feet the machine began pitching again, and, in one of its darts downward, struck the ground. The distance over the ground was measured to be 852 feet; the time of the flight was 59 seconds. The frame supporting the front rudder was badly broken, but the main part of the machine was not injured at all. We estimated that the machine could be put in condition for flight again in about a day or two.


Orville's notebook entry of December 17, 1903
Five people witnessed the flights: Adam Etheridge, John T. Daniels (who snapped the famous "first flight" photo using Orville's pre-positioned camera) and Will Dough, all of the U.S. government coastal lifesaving crew; area businessman W.C. Brinkley; and Johnny Moore, a teenaged boy who lived in the area. After the men hauled the Flyer back from its fourth flight, a powerful gust of wind flipped it over several times, despite the crew's attempt to hold it down. Severely damaged, the airplane never flew again. The brothers shipped it home, and years later Orville restored it, lending it to several U.S. locations for display, then to a British museum, before it was finally installed in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. in 1948, its current residence.


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