Today, there are more than 3 million people fly every day. According to Boeing aircraft, every 2 seconds a flight is taking off or landing somewhere in the world every day. It was only 110 years ago traveling was considered convenient if one were lucky enough to park their horse and grab a rail pass.
Many of today’s military aviators, astronauts, and commercial pilots were inspired to become aviators as early as their childhood days standing in the front yard, eyes turned skywards, imagining what it would be like to fly like a bird. For Wilbur and Orville Wright this would be a dream come true.
Wilbur and Orville Wright were two brothers of Ohio fascinated by mechanics and flying. The brothers operated a bicycle shop in Dayton, Ohio building and selling custom bicycles as well as repairing them. Their early success allowed them more freedom to direct their time towards a childhood dream they were determined to accomplish, the first controlled, powered flight. In 1890, Wilbur and Orville would begin nearly a decade of research reading everything they could about aviation and aeronautics, spend late nights in the bicycle shop, and countless trips back to the drawing board that would soon pay off.
American Wright Company was founded 1909 to manufacture airplanes for the US military. The Wright’s invention of the airplane would change the future of the world. Take a look at the next 50 years and see how the airplane invention impacted future events around the world.
The Wright Brothers Timeline
1892 – Wright Cycle Exchange Opens.
The Wright Cycle Company would eventually grow to five different locations in Dayton, Ohio.
1900 – The first Wright Glider Takes Flight
The Wright Glider was the Wrights’ first of many test flights to examine what biplane structure would be optimum for controlled flight. The Wrights’ extensive test flights provided valuable performance data and would be key to their success. This would also be a crutch to the Wrights’ development of piloting skills.
1901 – Second Wright Glider Test Flights
The second Wright Glider takes flight
at the same test site, a few miles south of Kitty Hawk.
1902 – Third Wright Glider Test Flights
This was their first glider to consist of full yaw control by use of a rear rudder.
1903 – Wright Brothers First Flight
On December 17, 1903, Wilbur and Orville Wright achieved their dream when their ambitious plane, nicknamed the “Flyer I,” took flight for the first time in Kitty Hawk, N.C. The aircraft weighed over 600 pounds with a wingspan of 40 feet. Flyer I was powered by manpower with a small area in the center of the aircraft to lay forward facing on your stomach and pedals. It was a very simple model. The brothers flipped a coin to see who would be the first pilot. Orville won the coin toss. Flyer I remained airborne for twelve seconds and flew 120 feet. It worked! The Wright Brothers constructed Flyer II in 1905, an aircraft that would take flight for 34 miles and 38 minutes.
1908 – The Wright Brothers are Grounded
After the Wrights’ accomplishments of Flyer I, the brothers made no flights at all in 1906 and 1907. Most of their time was spent pursuing patchy negotiations with the U.S. and European governments.
1909 – Wrights Sign Contract for Military Flights
The Wrights sign the first contract to manufacture military aircraft with the U.S. Army. At College Park, Maryland, Wilbur Wright instructs training for military flights. The first military aviators were Lieutenants Frank Lahm, Fredrick Humphreys, and Benjamin Foulois.
1910 – “Wright Fliers.”
Orville Wright trains the first group of pilots for the exhibition team. On June 13-18, the Wright Fliers make their first appearance at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The aircraft was a Model R – the “R” was for “racer” was introduced with a powerful V-8 engine, it could fly in excess of 70 miles per hour.
1911 – Army and Navy equip weapons to Military Flights
The first airplane to be used as a weapon is introduced by the Army and Navy. Lieutenant Jacob Fickel was the first military aviator to fire a rifle while piloting a military aircraft. Fickel’s impact would soon change the future of military flights and warfare. In November, the Navy introduces the U.S.S. Birmingham, which would be the first ever aircraft carrier. The U.S.S. Birmingham’s extra space would be optimum for the advancement of military flights and air-to-air combat.
Wilbur leaves for Europe to testify in a French Wright patent suit in Paris and to train pilots in Germany.
1912 – On May 30th, Wilbur Wright dies
Typhoid fever in Dayton, Ohio.
1913 – Orville and Katharine Wright leave for Europe
Upon their return on March 19, the Wright family home and property is damaged by severe flooding of the Miami River. Many of the Wright’s early aviation and business records are lost in the flood.
1914 – A big year for the Wright Company
The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals of New York rules in favor of the Wright Company in it’s suit against Herring-Curtiss Company and Glenn H. Curtiss. Following the ruling, Wright Company files a complaint against Curtiss Aeroplane Company for continuing to manufacture, use, and sell ‘flying machines’ that transgress on the Wrights’ patent.
1915 – Orville Wright Goes to Battle
Smithsonian Institution states that Samuel P. Langley’s design of the aerodrome was in fact “the first airplane capable of sustained free flight with a man.” This statement leads to major controversy between Orville and the Smithsonian Institution. The Wright Brothers v. Smithsonian Institution controversy would carry on until 1942. Orville Wright takes a few steps back by selling his space in the Wright Company. He then serves as a consulting engineer for Wright Company and uses his free time to work on experiments at home.
1916 – Glenn L. Martin Company
Wright Company merges with Glenn L. Martin Company, renamed Wright-Martin Aircraft Corporation, Orville is the chief consultant engineer and oversees the Model L Aircraft, the last airplane produced by the Wright Company. The 1903 Flyer I is restored for display at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
1917 – U.S. Army Expands Military Flights
Wright-Martin Aircraft Corporation manufactures airplanes for the U.S. Army. His father, Milton Wright, dies.
1918 – Orville Wright Celebrates Big!
Orville takes to the skies in a Wright Model B for a celebration in Dayton. This would be his last time to pilot an airplane. Orville works with Charles Kettering to design the Liberty Eagle, an unmanned “aerial torpedo” that would mount to a space under the fuselage of military flights. Huge advancement for military warfare.
1919 – The OW.1 Aerial Coupe
Designed by Orville Wright, manufactured by the Dayton Wright Airplane Company. The OW.1 is a luxurious four-place cabin biplane with more cockpit space, and the last aircraft either of the Wright brothers ever designed.
1920 – National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics
Orville is appointed by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. He remains an active participant for the rest of his life. The first monument to the Wrights’ achievements is unveiled in Le Mans, France.
1921 – Griffith Brewer
English aviator and long-term friend of the Wright brothers, delivers a speech to the Royal Aeronautical Society in London supporting Orville’s claims the the 1903 Langley Aerodrome was not capable of flight, opposed to Smithsonian’s claim that it was capable, and in fact the first powered flight.
1922 – Orville Receives National Attention
A poll by the New York Times lists Orville as on of the 12 greatest living Americans. Orville and Katharine design a flying boat.
1923 – Orville Doesn’t Stop with Airplanes.
Following his love for toys and mechanics, he designs an action toy that hurls a clown at a orbiting trapeze. The toy was called “Flips & Flops,” manufactured by the Miami Specialty Company for only a couple years.
1924 – The Split Flap
Orville Wright and James Jacobs introduce the “split flap,” used to slow airplanes in a steep descend. Unfamiliar of the split flap’s aerodynamic capabilities, the Navy pronounces it useless but would later declare the split flap as an important component of “dive bombers” in World War II. This small modification permitted military pilots to rapidly descend their aircraft at ground targets while discharging heavy armor. The high speed flights would soon advance to Air Combat Maneuvering, also known as Dog Fighting. The split flap is Orville’s last aeronautical patent.
1925 – Orville disputes the Smithsonian’s insistence
He issues a statement that threatens to give the 1903 Flyer to a London museum. Charles Abbott, Smithsonian Secretary, refuse to dislodge his position.
1926 – Katharine Wright
Katharine marries Henry J. Haskell and relocates to Kansas City. Orville strongly urged Katharine not to move. Orville serves on the board of the Guggenheim Fund for Promotion of Aeronautics, an organization that would promote advances in aviation safety, navigation, and instrumentation.
1927 – President Calvin Coolidge
President Coolidge signs an act to assemble a monument to the Wright brothers on the Kill Devil Hills near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.
1928 – Orville Wright is a man of his word
Following his 1925 statement to the Smithsonian Secretary, the 1903 Flyer I is sent to the Science Museum of London. This would cause huge public attention to the ongoing feud between the Wright Company and the Smithsonian Institution.
1929 – Katharine Wright Haskell Dies of Pneumonia
Katharine Wright’s final moments were in Kansas City. Orville takes her body back to Dayton, Ohio to bury next to his brother Wilbur.
1930 – The Wright Brothers: Fathers of Flight (1930)
John McMahon, the first biography of Wilbur and Orville Wright. Orville Wright invents a printing press capable of printing on balsa wood and cuts out shapes. It’s used to manufacture toy airplanes.
1931 – A Special Tribute is Payed by NBC
NBC radio stations pays special tributes for the occasion of Orville’s 60th birthday.
1932 – Wright Brothers Monument is finished.
At Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, the monument is dedicated with Orville Wright in attendance. Orville would be the only person to see a national monument erected to him while still living.
1933 – At the request of Chrysler
Orville assists with wind tunnel tests that lead to the first aerodynamic automobiles, the Desoto Airflow and Chrysler Airflow.
1934 – Marshall Reid
Another pioneer figure of aviation, flies a restored Wright Model B. It is the last recored flight of an original Wright aircraft.
1935 – Huntington College in Indiana
A United Brethren Institution, presents an honorary Doctor of Laws degree to Orville Wright. The Wright’s father Milton Wright taught at Huntington and also met his mother, Susan Wright, during her time as a student.
1936 – Henry Ford
Founder of Ford Motor Company, removes the Wright bicycle shop and the Wright home from Dayton, Ohio to a space in his museum in Dearborn, Michigan. Henry Ford and the Early Birds of Aviation promise Orville in return to support Orville’s dispute with the Smithsonian.
1937 – Orville’s last Will and Testament is prepared
Deeding the 1903 Wright Flyer to the Kensington Museum in England unless the will is amended at a later date.
1938 – Henry Ford Museum opens the Wright Bicycle Shop and Wright home to the public. Orville and much of his extended family attend the dedication in Dearborn, Michigan.
1939 – The Civil Aeronautics Authority
By Congressional decree, issues Orville Wright the Honorary Pilot’s License No. 1.
1940 – The city of Dayton, Ohio dedicates the Wilbur and Orville Wright memorial on a hill overlooking Huffman Prairie. The 1903 Wright Flyer is removed from the Kensington Museum and is secured on a stone quarry for safekeeping during World War II. A new face appears in the aviation industry. Sikorsky introduces the first successful rotary military flight, which would later evolve to the helicopter.
1941 – On December 7, Japan attacks Pearl Harbor
Japan’s military traveled from Tokyo-Narita to Hawaii and then launched flights to surprise attack the Pacific Fleet and surrounding Hawaii military bases. Japan’s surprise attack would devastate Pearl Harbor, Hickam AFB, Bellows AFB Station, and Schofield Barracks. The United States enters World War II.
1942 – Orville Wright assists the U.S. Navy
To create a code-breaking device that will decipher encrypted German communications. After decades, the Smithsonian finally recants their 1914 report on the Langley Aerodrome and honors the Wright brothers as the first to make a controlled, sustained powered flight.
1943 – Flyer I is recalled from England
But won’t be shipped home until the end of World War II. Author Fred G. Kelly publishes the first authorized biography of the Wright brothers. The biography is written with Orville’s input and permission.
1944 – Howard Hughes sets a speed record
Flying a prototype Constellation across America. Hughes lands in Dayton, Ohio to give Orville his last airplane ride.
1945 – Aircraft carrier U.S.S. Wright
Launched at Camden, New Jersey by Orville Wright’s niece, Lyonette Wright-Miller.
1946 – The Original 1901 Wright Wind Tunnel Found! Orville finds the original 1901 Wright Wind Tunnel, aircraft balances and airfoils in the attic of his laboratory that were missing for many years. These were lost when Orville moved in 1916. Orville donates them to the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.
1947 – The 1905 Wright Flyer III is Restored
The restored aircraft would later be installed at Deed’s Carillon Park, a museum dedicated to Dayton’s history and its role in transportation technology.
1948 – Orville Wright has a heart attack
In Dayton, Ohio and dies. The Smithsonian Institution enshrines the 1903 Flyer I airplane in recognition of the Wright’s accomplishments.
By Bob McAllister