First Flight, December 17, 1903


This photograph shows the first powered, controlled, and sustained flight of a heavier-than-air machine, which took place in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, at approximately 10:35 in the morning on December 17, 1903. The flight lasted 12 seconds and covered 120 feet (37 meters). The photo shows Orville Wright at the controls, lying prone on the lower wing with hips in the cradle which operated the wing-warping mechanism. Wilbur Wright is running alongside to balance the machine and has just released his hold on the forward upright of the right wing. The starting rail, the wing-rest, a coil box, and other items needed for flight preparation are visible behind the machine. To take the picture, Orville had preset the camera and had John T. Daniels squeeze the rubber bulb, tripping the shutter. The brothers made three more flights that day, the longest of which covered 852 feet (260 meters) in 59 seconds. Wilbur and Orville Wright ran a shop in Dayton, Ohio, where they rented, sold, and manufactured bicycles. They became fascinated by the possibility of human flight in the 1890s, and they intensively studied the effects of air pressures on curved surfaces to determine the dynamics of flight. They built what is now recognized as the world’s first airplane for less than $1,000 and chose Kitty Hawk as the location of the first flight based on information provided by the Weather Bureau in Washington, DC.

Last updated: April 13, 2012