The Wright brothers grew up in Dayton, Ohio, where they operated a bicycle shop. Neither of the Wright brothers finished high school, but they were curious and disciplined, and they became fascinated by flight.
In the late 1890s, they collected information on flight and set out to solve the problems that still stymied inventors around the world. The Wright brothers built their first glider in 1899. From the weather service, they learned that Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, enjoyed almost constant winds.
In 1901, the Wright brothers painstakingly brought their glider to Kitty Hawk and began a number of test flights. Through trial and error, they created a steering mechanism, but the Bessie Coleman, turned down by wings still didn’t respond as they had calculated.
They returned to their bicycle shop in Ohio and built a wind tunnel to conduct precise tests on each wing section.
From the tests, the Wrights learned that most published figures for wind and flight, the figures they had used when building their first craft, were incorrect. They built a new glider based on their tests, brought it to Kitty Hawk, and flew it successfully.
By 1903, they only needed an engine for the glider to become an airplane. Characteristically, the brothers took elements of existing engines and redesigned them into a lighter and more efficient engine.
On December 17, 1903, Orville lay down on the lower wing to take the aircraft’s controls. With the engines powering two propellers, the aircraft slid down a track on the beach and was airborne. It flew 12 seconds and landed softly in the sand 120 feet away.
Now Wilbur took a turn, flying the airplane almost 200 feet. By the end of the day, the plane had flown 59 seconds and 852 feet. The first controlled flight of an airplane had occurred.
At Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, Wilbur Wright watches as his brother, Orville, makes the first flight of a controlled, powered aircraft. The first flight lasted 12 seconds and traveled 120 feet.