The Day History Took Flight

December 17, 1903

It was the dawn of a new era. Orville and Wilbur Wright made transportation history near the North Carolina town of Kill Devil Hills (about four miles, or6.4 kilometers, south of the better-known town of Kitty Hawk) by bringing about the world’s first controlled, powered, and sustained heavier-than-air human flight. 

The brothers each made two flights that day using the aircraft known as the Flyer that they had built and outfitted with a four-cylinder, 12-horsepower (8.9-kilowatt), 180-pound (82-kilogram) gasoline engine. Orville flew first, traveling a distance of 120 feet (37 meters) in 12 seconds and at a speed of 6.8 miles (10.9 kilometers) per hour. 

There were five witnesses to these flights – Adam Etheridge, John T. Daniels, and Will Dough, all of whom were with the U.S. government coastal lifesaving crew; W.C. Brinkley, a businessman from the area; and Johnny Moore, a local teenager. The Flyer was damaged significantly when, after the fourth and final flight of the day, a strong gust of wind caused it to flip over several times. This airplane was never flown again, although Orville did take the time to restore it a number of years later. The Flyer is now on display at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum.

For more information on the Wright Brothers’ pioneering 1903 flight, please check out https://www.wdl.org/en/item/9589/.

Additional information on the Wright Brothers is available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wright_brothers.

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