On December 17, 1903, Wilbur and Orville Wright made the first successful airplane flight. You might know their basic story, but do you know the answers to these trivia questions about that stunning day near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina?
What Made the Wright Brothers Think They Could Do This? The Wright brothers were mechanically inclined and already ran a successful bicycle shop. In fact, their shop was below a factory where the brothers made their own line of bicycles. When Orville fell ill with typhoid fever, one of the things Wilbur did during Orville's recovery was read to him about a famous German glider pilot who had recently died in a glider accident. The pilot, Otto Lilienthal, had died when a random gust of wind interfered with his flight, causing the glider to stall and fall. The idea of creating a way for pilots to control their own aircraft and be powered by something other than the wind took hold. When Orville recovered, he and Wilbur began testing glider wing configurations, watching birds take flight, and seeing how they could expand pilot compartments for possible passengers.
Why Did They Choose a Location So Far Away From Home? The brothers were based in Ohio but tested their flights in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. They needed an area with gentle but reasonably stable winds that would allow them to test their crafts as needed but wouldn't put them at unnecessary risk of crashing or flying off course. They asked Octave Chanute, an engineer, about places across the country that might have these conditions, and Chanute noted that the beaches along the southeastern coast of the U.S. had near-ideal conditions, including sand instead of hard ground. Eventually, the brothers chose Kitty Hawk as their testing grounds, and they had to camp out while there because, other than a few fishermen, the place was deserted.
Which Brother Was First to Take to the Skies? The brothers relied on a coin toss to determine which of them would pilot the first test flight of their Wright Flyer. Their first attempt was made on December 14, 1903, and the coin toss that day turned out in Wilbur's favor, so he was at the controls of their airplane in a test flight that ended unsuccessfully, causing some minor damage to their aircraft. Three days later, with the damages repaired, it was Orville's turn at the controls. Decked out in a coat and tie, Orville lay on his stomach on the plane's lower wing as Wilbur ran alongside to help balance the lightweight aircraft. The first manned flight lasted only 12 seconds and covered only 120 feet. Later that day on the last of four successful flights, Wilbur was at the controls on a flight that lasted almost a minute and covered just over 850 feet.
Why Did the Brothers Almost Never Fly Together? The Wright brothers' father was scared of one nasty potential hazard of the flights. He was not scared of flying, but he feared that if both Orville and Wilbur flew together and the plane crashed, both his sons would die. As a result, the brothers flew together only once, with their father's permission. Their father's concern wasn't unfounded; the brothers had experienced crashes with prototype gliders before 1903, and they certainly had their share of crashes and injuries after that year. In fact, one of their flights was also the first time a person died while flying. In 1908, Orville was piloting a plane and had one passenger, Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge. The plane crashed, killing Selfridge and breaking Orville's leg.