Wilbur and Orville Wright were bicycle manufacturers and mechanics from Dayton, Ohio. While they are aviation’s most celebrated pioneers, they also hold a special place in the hearts of EAAers everywhere because the Wrights were the first successful aircraft homebuilders (building an aircraft using hand and mind and personal resources — not in a corporate or government factory).
At a young age, their father gave the brothers a gift of an Alphosne Pénaud toy helicopter. They were instantly enthralled, and played with it until they wore it out. Then they copied it and started building small flying machines of their own, machines that got progressively bigger as their lifelong obsession grew.
Their quest to be the first to fly began in earnest in 1899, when Orville wrote to the Smithsonian Institution, asking for information about aviation. In Dayton, Orville and Wilbur completed the design and construction of their powered glider in June 1903.
It weighed in at just over 600 pounds including its 179-pound, 12-horsepower engine. The craft had a wingspan of 40 feet, 4 inches.
At 10:35 a.m., December 17, 1903, Wilbur fired up the four-cylinder engine and Orville embarked on the first manned, sustained, powered flight. That initial ascent lasted about 12 seconds and spanned an estimated 120 feet.
Wilbur then gave it a try and exceeded his brother’s distance by about 75 feet. As any pilot knows, nothing can substitute for experience: By Wilbur’s second try (the fourth overall and the last one of this fateful day), he sustained flight for nearly a full minute and a distance of over 850 feet.
They were the first homebuilders and their 1903 Wright Flyer was the first truly successful heavier-than-air experimental aircraft. Their spirit lives on in EAA to this day.
FACT CHECK: WRIGHT FLYER
Length: 21 feet
Wingspan: 40 feet, 4 inches (note that the right wing is four inches longer than the left wing, to compensate for the weight of the engine, which was mounted off center to the right of the pilot.)
Height: 9 feet, 3 inches
Empty Weight: 605 pounds
Powerplant: 4-cylinder, water-cooled, horizontally in-line
Horsepower: 12 hp
See the Flyer at the EAA Aviation Museum
The full-size replica of the Wright brothers’ historic 1903 Flyer—the first true airplane—is a centerpiece in the EAA collection. It is one of the first aircraft a visitor sees upon entering the main gallery and stands as a tribute to the birth of aviation and to the accomplishments of Wilbur and Orville Wright and their mechanic, Charlie Taylor.
The replica was built jointly by EAA and Blackhawk Technical Institute of Janesville, Wisconsin, over a period of 10 years. Various components were built at Blackhawk, in the EAA shops, and by EAA volunteers around the United States. Final assembly and much of the detail work were carried out at Blackhawk by students in the aviation mechanics program. The replica was completed in 1978 — the 75th anniversary of the Wrights’ first flight — and was placed on permanent exhibit in EAA’s museum located in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.