Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Wright Brothers At Kitty Hawk: 112 Years Ago Today

The 27-mph wind was harder than they would have liked - their predicted cruising speed was only 30-35 mph. The headwind would slow their ground speed to a crawl but they proceeded anyway. With the wave of a bed sheet they signaled the volunteers from the nearby lifesaving station that they were about to try again.

It was Orville's turn. Remembering Wilbur's experience he positioned himself in the pilot cradle and tested the controls. The stick that moved the horizontal elevator controlled climb and descent. The cradle that he swung with his hips warped the wings and swung the vertical tails which in combination turned the machine. A lever controlled the gas flow and airspeed recorder. The controls were simple and few but Orville knew it would take all his finesse to handle the new and heavier aircraft. At 10:35 AM he released the restraining wire. The flyer moved down the rail as Wilbur steadied the wings. Just as the craft left the ground John Daniels, an amateur photographer and member of the lifesaving station, snapped the shutter on a preset camera  In doing so he captured the historic image of the Wright Brothers flight that we know so well.

The Wright Flyer begins its first successful flight, December 17, 1903 

As usual the flyer was unruly, pitching up and down as Orville overcompensated with the controls. But he kept it aloft until it hit the sand about 120 feet from the rail. Into that 27-mph wind the ground speed had been 6.8 mph. The total airspeed was 34 mph. The 12 second event was the real thing: controlled, sustained flight by a man in a heavier-than-air vehicle.

The brothers took turns flying three more times that day getting a feel for the controls and increasing their distance with each flight. Wilbur's second flight - the fourth and last of the day – was an impressive 852 feet in 59 seconds.

For comprehensive information on this historic event visit the National Park Services Wright Brothers National Memorial web page.


unrestored version, 1903 photograph, John T. Daniels, Library of Congress

National Park Service, Wright Brothers National Memorial

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