This page shows a computer drawing
of the Wright brothers' 1900 aircraft. This aircraft was flown
repeatedly at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, during the fall of 1900,
mostly as a kite
but also as a piloted glider.
Research had directed the Wright brothers to
Kitty Hawk because of the constant strong winds which their kite required and it was
remote, so they would not be bothered by curious crowds of people.
The location also had hills for launching the glider if the windspeed was low
and abundant sand to soften crash landings.
Their main concern was to learn how to
the forces on an aircraft. Others who had thought it more
important to fly first and figure out control later had died in
crashes. The Wright brothers used the 1900 aircraft to learn the
fundamentals of aerodynamics.
You can learn the same things in the same way by flying
your own kite or glider.
You can study the design of the 1900 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
"1900.html" to run the program off-line.
The Wright brothers had observed that soaring
birds twist their wings to change direction. The brothers had successfully done
the same thing in Dayton in 1899 by twisting the wings of a small
kite. In 1900, the brothers decided to test this idea on an aircraft that was large
enough to carry a man.
The pilot could control the roll
of the aircraft by using a foot pedal. The
pedal was connected to wires which
pulled on the wing tips and warped,
or twisted, the wing. Warping produces unequal forces on the wings
which would roll the aircraft.
The 1900 aircraft was relatively
large as you can tell by comparing with the size of the pilot.
The aircraft had two wings covered by a
tightly woven material called "sateen".
Each wing had a seventeen foot span and
a five foot chord.
Four foot struts separated the wings and
a stabilizer was mounted
on the front of the aircraft which had no tail.
Without the pilot
the 1900 craft weighed about fifty pounds. In 1900, glider pilots
usually flew in a vertical position. The Wright brothers correctly
understood that this produced a lot of aerodynamic
that would slow a glider down. They chose
instead to streamline their aircraft by having the pilot lie
horizontal on the lower wing.
Here is a photo taken in 1900 of the actual aircraft flying at
Kitty Hawk as a kite.
All wings have a natural tendency to flip tail over nose because
of the pressure distribution around the wing. To prevent their
aircraft from flipping, the Wright brothers attached a horizontal
stabilizer to the front of the aircraft. A stabilizer at the
front of an aircraft is called a canard after the French word
for "duck", since a duck has a bulge around its neck. On later
models the shape of the stabilizer
was varied by the pilot to provide
pitch (up and down)
control. But on the 1900 aircraft they fixed the stabilizer in
place and just tested the wing warping.
They found it too confusing at this early juncture to simultaneously
provide both pitch and roll control. On the 1901
aircraft, they would begin experiments on simultaneous
For three weeks they flew their craft as a
kite, using chain as weight to simulate a pilot and operating the
controls by cable from the ground. Then they decided to test the
craft as a glider, with Wilbur as pilot. Launching from a dune hill
on a very windy day, he made about a dozen glides, some lasting as
much as 20 seconds and covering up to 400 feet, longer than a
football field! Altogether he spent about 2 minutes in the air. Even
though this was the only day that season with winds strong enough to
carry a pilot, they showed that wing warping was a success.
Lessons learned on the 1900 aircraft were incorporated on all
of the later Wright aircraft.
To celebrate the Centennial of Flight in 2003, many people around the country
have built full scale replicas of the Wright 1900. The 6th grade
students of the Orono Middle School from Orono, Maine, have donated a
full scale model
of the aircraft to NASA to share with other students.
You can build your own model of the 1900 Wright aircraft using a styrofoam
meat tray and some toothpicks.
Plans for this model are available
with step by step instructions. The final model looks like this: