First Flight on the Outer Banks

 first flight outer banks

The Wright Flyer courtesy of the United States Library of Congress 

 First Flight

Orville Wright's own account of the first flight at Kill Devil Hills on December 17, 1903, was published in a short-lived British magazine, Flying, in January 1919. Much of the article, which dealt with highly technical problems involved in the development of the first airplane, is dry reading-but not so with the actual description of the first successful flight as told by the aviator. Here is the pilot's account of how the first flight was made.

When we arose on the morning of the 17th, the puddles of water, which had been standing about the camp since the recent rains, were covered with ice. The wind had a velocity of 22 to 27 miles an hour... When ten o'clock arrived and the wind was as brisk as ever, we decided that we had better get the machine out and attempt a flight. We hung out the signal for the men at the Life Saving Station. We thought that by facing the flyer into the face of a strong wind, there ought to be no trouble in launching it from the level ground about the camp. We realized the difficulties in flying in so high a wind but estimated that the added dangers in flight would be partly compensated for by the slower speed in landing.

We laid the track on a smooth stretch of ground...The biting cold wind made work difficult, and we had to warm up frequently in our living room, where we had a good fire in an improvised stove made of a large carbide can. By the time all was ready, J.T. Daniels, W.S. Dough and A.D. Etheridge, members of the Kill Devil Life Saving Station; W.C. Brinkley of Manteo and Johnny Moore, a boy from Nags Head, had arrived...

With all the knowledge and skill acquired in thousands of flights in the last ten years. I would hardly think today of making my first flight on a strange machine in a 27-mile wind, even if I knew that the machine had already been flown and was safe. After these years of experience. I look with amazement upon our audacity in attempting flights with a new and untried machine under such circumstances. Yet faith in our calculations and the design of the first machine, based upon our tables of air pressures, secured by months of careful laboratory work, and confidence in our system of control, developed by three years of actual experience in balancing gliders, had convinced us that the machine was capable of lifting and maintaining itself in the air and that with a little practice it could be safely flown.

How the Airplane Has Changed the World

Whole books have been written on the dramatic impact that the airplane has made on the world over the past 60 years. Listed below are only a few of the many facets of human activity which the airplane has touched and transformed. Teachers may wish to present this list to their students to determine specific examples and to make additions:

Development of under-privileged nations
Forest fire control
News and TV
Politics - International and national
Postal service
Public relations
Recreation and sports
Rescue and relief
Weather forecasting

Did you know that . . . ?

In 1901 Admiral Melville, Chief Engineer of the U.S. Navy, predicted that the first flying machine would be more expensive than the costliest battleship. Actually, the Wright brothers' Flyer cost about $1000 including the brothers' round trip rail fare between Dayton, Ohio and Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

The first gasoline delivered to Kitty Hawk was ordered by the Wright brothers--not for their airplane, but for their cook stove.

Residents of Kitty Hawk were only mildly interested in the Wrights' flying experiments, but were quite excited over the danger of having a barrel of highly explosive gasoline nearby.

A few minutes after the fourth successful flight on December 17, 1903, a gust of wind caught the Flyer, turning it over and over. Mr. John Daniels, a witness to these first flights, tried to hold the aircraft on the ground but became entangled in it and was badly bruised. He thus became the first airplane casualty. The machine was damaged and never flew again.

Early models of the Wright brothers' airplanes required the pilot to lie face downward to fly the aircraft.

While the Wright brothers were working on their first airplane, another inventor, Samuel Langley, developed an airplane which, because of a launching accident, failed on its first attempt to fly just a few days before the Wrights succeeded. Langley's launching device cost about $50,000. The simple wooden rail on which the Wrights' Flyer was launched cost $4.00.

Wilbur, having lost his turn in the unsuccessful attempt on (December 14), the right of the first trial now belonged to me. After running the motor a few minutes to heat it up, I released the wire that held the machine to track. Unlike the start on the 14th, made in a calm, the machine, facing a 27-mile wind, started very slowly. Wilbur was able to stay with it till it lifted from the track after a 40-foot run. One of the Life Saving men snapped the camera for us, taking a picture just as the machine had reached the end of the track and had risen to a height of about two feet.

The course of the flight up and down was exceedingly erratic, partly due to the irregularity of the air and partly to lack of experience in handling the machine. The machine would rise suddenly to about 10 feet and then suddenly dart for the ground. A sudden dart when a little over 120 feet from the point at which it rose into the air, ended the flight.

With the assistance of our visitors we carried the machine back to the track and prepared for another flight.

At 20 minutes after 11, Wilbur started on the second flight. The course of this flight was much like that of the first, very much up and down. The speed was faster due to the lesser wind. The duration of the flight was less than a second longer than the first, but the distance covered was about 75 feet greater.

Twenty minutes later the third flight started. I was proceeding along pretty well when a sudden gust from the right lifted the machine up 12 to 15 feet and turned it sideways in an alarming manner but I recovered. The time of this flight was 15 seconds and the distance over the ground a little over 200 feet.

Wilbur started the fourth and last flight at just 12 o'clock. When out about 800 feet, the machine began pitching and in one of its darts downward struck the ground. The distance over the ground was measured and found to be 852 feet; the time of the flight 59 seconds.

While standing about discussing this last flight, a sudden gust of wind struck the machine and began to turn it over. Everybody made a rush for it. Wilbur seized it, in front Mr. Daniels and I who were behind, tried to stop it by holding the rear upright. All our efforts were in vain. The machine rolled over and over. Mr. Daniels, who had retained his grip, was carried along with it and was thrown about head over heels inside of the machine. Fortunately he was not seriously injured, though badly bruised from falling about against the motor, chain, guides, etc. The ribs and the surfaces of the machine were broken, the motor injured and the can guides badly bent so that all possibility of future flight with it for that year were ended.

Back to top