This page shows a computer drawing of the Wright
brothers' 1903 aircraft. This machine was the first piloted aircraft that was heavier than
air, self-propelled and maneuverable. It was, in
short, the first airplane. The forces
acting on this aircraft are identical to the forces
which act on any modern aircraft.
The various parts of the aircraft were
designed and perfected by three years of flight testing
unpowered aircraft as
gliders, and from
testing. One of the major breakthroughs
of the Wright brothers was the ability to control and maneuver their
aircraft. An aircraft must be controlled
about three principal axes; an up and down movement of the nose,
which is called pitch, a side to side
movement of the nose, which is called yaw, and
an up and down movement of the wing tips, which is called roll.
The Wright's used an all-moving elevator at
the front of the aircraft to control pitch. From the glider flights
of 1901, the Wright's identified the need for a rudder
at the rear of the aircraft to control yaw and to allow co-ordinated
turns. Roll control was provided by wing
warping which is twisting the wing tips to increase or decrease
lift on the outer sections of the wing.
The brothers began large scale testing of their ideas with a
combination kite and glider in
ideas tested on this aircraft were further refined on the glider of
1901. These early aircraft uncovered problems
in the application of aerodynamic data which led to
wind tunnel testing
by the Wrights in 1901. Based on the wind tunnel data, the
1902 glider design proved highly successful.
The 1903 design was based on the 1902 glider.
You can study the design of the 1903 aircraft by changing the
view using the buttons at the
bottom of this Java program.
You can download your own copy of this applet by pushing the following button:
The program is downloaded in .zip format. You must save the file to disk and
then "Extract" the files. Click on
"1903.html" to run the program off-line.
The 1903 aircraft was similar to the 1902 craft, but now with a
longer forty foot wing span,
a six foot chord, five feet between the wings, and twin rudders and elevators.
The biggest difference between the 1902 and 1903 was the addition of the
The aircraft used twin pusher propellers located
behind the wings and made to rotate in opposite directions so
that the rotational forces would cancel out.
The Wright brothers were the first to recognize that an
aircraft propeller acted like a rotating wing. They designed and
made their own propellers based on their wind tunnel experiments.
To turn the propellers, the brothers needed a gas engine.
Since no one could provide them
with a light enough motor of adequate horsepower, they built their
that put out 12 horsepower. For comparisons,
a modern lawn mower engine can easily produce 6 horse power!
The motor was placed on the lower wing next to the pilot and was connected
to the propellers with bicycle chains. A small gasoline tank was mounted on
one of the wing struts.
With the pilot and motor, the 1903 craft weighed a little over seven hundred
was first successfully flown on December 17, 1903, at Kitty Hawk,
North Carolina on flights of just over 100 feet to over 800 feet.
Here is the famous photo taken in 1903 of the first flight
Each of the four flights was marked by an instability in pitch; the nose,
and consequently the entire aircraft, would slowly bounce up and down.
On the last flight, hard contact with the ground broke the front elevator
support and ended the season's flying.
The brothers were encouraged, but realized that there was still more work
to do before a truly operational aircraft could be developed.
They continued to perfect their design through
To celebrate the Centennial of Flight in 2003, several people around the
country have built replicas of the Wright 1903 flyer. The
students of the Orono Middle School from Orono, Maine, built a
of the aircraft which has been flown to the International Space Station
where it was used in several educational broadcasts during the summer and
fall of 2003.
You can build your own model of the 1903 Wright Flyer using a couple of styrofoam
meat trays and some toothpicks.
Plans for this model are available
with step by step instructions. The final model looks like this: