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Basic Airplane Balance

The Wright Brothers' Bicycle Test

Aeronautics Logo

Subject Area: Science and Technology

Grade Level: 9-12

National Standards:

Apply the concept of force and inertia to predict the motion of objects.


  • Technology Research Tools - Select and apply technology tools for research, information analysis, problem-solving, and decision-making in content learning.
  • Technology Problem-Solving and Decision-Making Tools - Routinely and efficiently use on-line information resources to meet needs for collaboration, research, publications, communications, and productivity.


After reading the explanation given below, use the World Wide Web to access additional information needed to complete the activity that utilizes an online simulation of the Wright Brother's bicycle balance test to determine the angle of attack and which angle of attack is balanced.

Otto Lilienthal studied aerial navigation in Germany for over 20 years. He patterned his designs from large birds. In 1889, he created tables that gave airlift values at varying angles of incidence. On August 9, 1896, while testing a glider a gust of wind hit it and it went out of control and crashed. Lilienthal broke his neck and died.

The Wright Brothers read and discussed Lilienthal's work and thought that shifting the weight of the operator was not the way to maintain balance in a glider. They worked out a plan to test Lilienthal's tables. They used a bicycle to fasten a curved-wing model and a flat plate at a defined angle to each other. They fastened the wheel in front of the handle bars of a bicycle and rode the bicycle to create a wind.

Drawing of Wright bicycle experiment

For additional background on the Wright Brothers, you can access the following sites:

The U.S. Centennial Of Flight Commission - Wright Brothers manuscripts and records.

Wright Again - Collaboration of the Franklin Institute, Cislunar Aerospace, National Business Aviation Association, and NASA Ames

Wright Brothers Airplane Company - History and Plans for replica aircraft.

AIAA Wright Flyer Project

The Wright Experience - Aircraft replicas

The National Aviation Heritage Area - Air Force Musuem and Wright Brothers museums

Wright Brothers Links - Dayton Innovation Legacy

The Wright Way - NASA Glenn

Proceed to the activity - Student(s) will need a computer with Internet connection.


You, or you and your partner(s), will be evaluated on the accuracy or feasibility of your answers.


You will be able to use the World Wide Web to access additional information needed to complete the activity that calculates and tests the angle of the balance of attack of an object.

Submitted by: Rhonna Smith, Olmsted Falls High School, Olmsted Falls, Ohio

Related Pages:
Aerodynamics Activities Index
Aerodynamics Index


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Editor: Tom Benson
NASA Official: Tom Benson
Last Updated: Thu, May 13 02:38:25 PM EDT 2021

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