First Flight
Part I - Inventing the Future

Back in Dayton, the Wright Brothers began to search for an engine. They wanted the engine to be gasoline-powered, less than 180 pounds in weight, and able to give eight to nine horsepower with little vibration. When they learned that such an engine did not exist, they decided to build their own. They called Mr. Charles E. Taylor into service. Mr. Taylor was a skilled machine maker. By February, 1903, the three-man team had built, in their bicycle workshop, a twelve horsepower engine that weighed just 179 pounds.

Would it ever work?
Start The Engine and see.

This notebook is filled with calculations used to design the propeller blades.
Propeller Calculations

They also had to build their own propeller. They spent weeks experimenting with this one important part of the plane. They filled an entire notebook with propeller calculations. By June, they had one. It was 8.5 feet in diameter. It was made of three layers of thin spruce (1 1/8 inch) glued together and shaped with a hatchet and a drawshave.

Meanwhile, on March 23, 1903, they applied for a patent for their new biplane. The design was unlike any flying-machine ever imagined before. Clearly, the Wright Brothers were inventing the future.

On September 25, 1903, Wilbur and Orville returned to Kitty Hawk. The next few weeks were spent building the plane. The wingspan of the 1903 Flyer was forty feet, four inches. The chord was six feet, six inches. Unmanned, the total weight was 605 pounds, including engine, chain drive, and propellers.

While no plans or blueprints exist, the brothers did make a preliminary drawing of the 1903 Flyer. On plain brown wrapping paper, they made pencil sketches of the top, side, and front views. Wilbur also made some notations and computations on page.

This is the only existing drawing of the 1903 Flyer.
Larger View

Some problems did arise. The engine vibrated so strongly that it caused the propeller shaft to break. The shaft was made of heavy steel tubing and it revolved to spin the propeller blade. They repaired and strengthened the shaft, but, it broke again. Finally, in late November, Orville went home to Dayton to make stronger steel parts for the propeller. He was back in Kitty Hawk on Saturday, December 12 and the new parts worked perfectly. They were ready!

They rested on Sunday. On Monday, December 14, 1903, they carried the Flyer to the track. A toss of a coin gave Wilbur the honor of making the first flight. The engine and propeller powered the plane down the track, the Flyer lifted off, but immediately sank down. The plane was slightly damaged, but it was repaired by Thursday. They were disappointed, but knew that the dream was still in reach.

But, would they succeed this year?
Turn to page to see in
Part II - Achieving the Dream.


[ First Flight | Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV ]