The Wright Brothers' First Flight
December 17, 1903
Wilbur and Orville Wright were two of five children born to a bishop of the Church of the United Brethren who was also editor of its religious journal. With this background, it might have been expected that they would pursue clerical or academic careers. Instead, fascinated from boyhood by mechanical toys, gadgets, and machinery, they followed the paths of science and invention. Scarcely out of school, they built their own printing press, on which they printed their own newspaper. Tiring of this, they turned to a new fad - bicycles - which they built and sold with considerable success. By 1890, balloons, which had served the Union Army well in the Civil War, caught their attention.
Serious experiments in aviation began in the early 1890s when they built a model biplane with a five-foot wingspread. A few years later they moved to Kitty Hawk, on Albermarle Sound, North Carolina, where they set up what was perhaps the first aviation laboratory in the country. After hundreds of experiments with glider plans in a specially built wind tunnel, they managed to build a plane, powered by a twelve-horsepower motor, but one which had to be launched by a catapult, and, to make matters worse, the pilot had to lie on his stomach to operate. Three years later, Orville was able to launch a gasoline-powered plane; it flew some two hundred feet and stayed aloft a full minute. On December 17 of the same year, Wilbur managed to stay aloft for a full minute and fly over eight hundred feet: the Age of Aviation had arrived.