The Wright brothers take to the air
Orville and Wilbur Wright never finished high school, but they built the first aircraft with an engine which actually managed to fly. It all began in 1878, when Wilbur was eleven and Orville seven. Their father, who was a bishop who travelled a lot, brought home a primitive toy helicopter. The kids played with it for ages, until it broke. Then they made one of their own. This was the beginning of their career in the field of aviation.
The brothers were very talented. When they left school they first opened a printing business, then a bicycle repair shop. Soon they were producing their own bicycles and making good money. In their spare time they read a lot about flying, a subject which was becoming important in the 1890s. In 1899 they decided they would try to construct an aircraft which was revolutionary in two ways. Unlike a glider, it would have an engine. And unlike gliders, which often crashed, it would be fully controlled by its pilot.
The following year the Wright Brothers went to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, where they began their experiments, but it was not until December 1903 that they made their first flights in a plane with an engine. First their aircraft climbed to 37 meters in twelve seconds, at a speed of 10.9 kilometers per hour. Three tries later they flew for 59 seconds and reached 260 meters. The age of aviation had truly begun!
First successful flight of the Wright Flyer, by the Wright brothers. Orville Wright was at the controls of the machine, lying prone on the lower wing with his hips in the cradle which operated the wing-warping mechanism. Wilbur Wright ran alongside to balance the machine, and just released his hold on the forward upright of the right wing in the photo. (Library of Congress)