The world’s first flight officially took off from North Carolina’s Outer Banks on this day in history, Dec. 17, 1903.
The Wright brothers were allegedly the first to successfully fly a powered and controlled airplane in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, after years of experimenting with the concept of flight.
Brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright began testing out flying in 1899, while Samuel Langley of the Smithsonian did the same, according to the National Park Service (NPS).
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Langley’s attempts were underwritten by the War Department yet were unsuccessful, since his efforts relied on the brute power of the machines to keep suspended in air.
But the Wrights’ vision that humans would have to oversee operating the planes themselves solved the issue, NPS recorded.
The duo developed a concept called “wing warping,” according to History.com.
That concept emulated the angle of bird wings.
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Wilbur Wright famously said, “It is possible to fly without motors, but not without knowledge and skill.”
The brothers took more than 1,000 glides from the top of Big Kill Devil Hill, which made the Wrights the first true pilots, NPS said.
As their flying skills and mastery of the air were crucial for their invention to function, the brothers soon solved the problem of a sustained lift through more experimentation.
Now that they were able to control the aircraft while in flight, the brothers felt ready to take it to the skies.
The brothers designed their own airplane propeller using air tunnel data.
The next obstacle was figuring out how to power the plane, according to NPS.
While gasoline engine technology had recently advanced during this time, the Wrights designed their own engine that was lightweight and suitable for their flyer.
Although it was less powerful than Langley’s engine, the Wright brothers understood that little power was needed as long as the lifting surfaces and propellers were efficient.
Since propellers were also unavailable at that time, the brothers designed their own airplane propeller using air tunnel data.
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NPS considered this “one of their most original and purely scientific achievements.”
The duo returned to their camp in Kill Devil Hills where they mounted their engine on the new 40-foot, 605-pound plane with double tails and elevators.
The first attempt to fly on Dec. 14, 1903, was a failure — resulting in Wilbur Wright nose-diving into the sand after climbing too steeply on takeoff.
After three days of making repairs to the aircraft, the brothers were ready for attempt no. 2 on Dec. 17.
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Wilbur Wright won the opportunity to fly first in a coin toss — so it was little brother Orville Wright’s turn to give it a go.
Even though the 27mph winds weren’t ideal, the pair signaled the volunteers from a nearby lifesaving station that they were about to try again.
Orville Wright hopped in and tested the controls, including the cradle that he swung with his hips, which warped the wings and turned the machine, and a lever that controlled gas flow.
Orville Wright knew it would take “all his finesse” to handle the new, improved and altogether heavy machinery, the NPS noted.
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Orville Wright released the restraining wire at 10:35 a.m. as he moved down the rail and left the ground.
Lifesaving station employee John Daniels snapped the iconic photo of the Wright plane taking off on a preset camera.
Wilbur Wright is seen running alongside as his brother takes the first flight.
With a lot of attention on the controls, Orville Wright kept the plane in flight until it hit the sand 120 feet away from the rail.
The brothers still triumphed the win and sent their father, Bishop Milton Wright, a telegram reporting their historic achievement.
The brothers took turns flying the plane three more times that same day to get used to the controls.
Each time they took off, their distance would increase little by little, until Wilbur Wright finally reached 852 feet in 59 seconds on his last attempt.
The Wrights’ machine had successfully flown, but it would never fly again, according to NPS.
After Wilbur’s final flight, the plane caught a gust of wind, rolled over and suffered irreparable damage.
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But the brothers still triumphed the win and sent their father, Bishop Milton Wright, a telegram reporting their historic achievement.
Two years later, according to History.com, the Wright brothers built and flew the first fully practical airplane.
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