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Photo: CNN

What is the oldest plane in the world?

December 17, 1903, is the day to remember. On that day, Wilbur and Orville Wright made four brief flights at Kitty Hawk with their first powered aircraft.

The Wright brothers had invented the first successful airplane.

The first successful flight of a powered airplane occurred at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on December 17, 1903. The plane's designers were Dayton residents Orville and Wilbur Wright, who until that point had made a living by building bicycles. That first plane was very primitive, but within a few years, the Wright brothers, as well as other aircraft designers, had begun to make many improvements. The first flight only lasted twelve seconds and traveled 120 feet, but a later flight that day lasted fifty-nine seconds and traveled 852 feet.

Many Americans, including journalists, did not believe the story of the Wright brothers' first flight. Only five Ohio newspapers covered the story originally, because the others refused to believe that flight was possible. That skepticism proved to be short-lived, and Americans became very interested in news stories about airplanes.

Early airplanes were very dangerous, and there were numerous dramatic crashes. At first, Americans viewed flying as an exciting form of entertainment -- something thrilling to watch, but not something the average person would do themselves. Pilots tried to achieve aviation milestones for the first time and get their names in the newspapers.

Airplanes were first used for military purposes during World War I, but only in very limited ways. World War I pilots usually were involved in reconnaissance, although there were some instances where pilots were involved in battles in the sky with another plane. Ohioan Edward V. Rickenbacker became known the flying ace for his aeronautical feats during World War I. After World War I, there were many additional advances in airplane design that made flights much safer. Eventually, planes would be used for military, commercial, and passenger transportation purposes.

The First Airplane - Origin of dream

It all started when Orville was 7 and Wilbur was 11 years old. Their father, Bishop Milton Wright, gave them a toy helicopter. It really flew. That toy made them dream of flying. Their parents helped them go after their dreams. Their mother, Susan K. Wright, was good with mechanical things. She went to college in Indiana. Very few women went to college at that time. She was very good in both math and science classes. Her boys learned a lot from her.

The boys still wanted to know about the flight as they grew up. They read everything they could find about it. They studied what other people learned about flight. The Wright Brothers also went into the printing business. They even printed a four-page newspaper. Then, people started riding bicycles. So, the brothers opened a bicycle repair shop. Their shop opened in Dayton, Ohio. It wasn't long before they were making their own bikes. But, they still wanted to fly.

The First Airplane - The dream come true

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Photo: Pinterest

By 1900, the Wright Brothers were ready to test their first glider. It was like a kite. They studied the best place to fly. They picked a sandy spot in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. They camped out there. Between 1901 and 1903, they went back and forth between Dayton and Kitty Hawk. They were getting closer to flying. Finally, on December 17, 1903, the time had come.

That day, they flew four times. Orville flew the Wright Flyer the first time. That flight lasted 12 seconds. It went 120 feet. Their second and third flights went up about 175 feet each. Wilbur flew the fourth flight of the day. It went 859 feet. It took 59 seconds. After that last flight, the wind blew very hard. It blew the Flyer across the sand. The plane was too smashed up to fly again. They sent the good news about the flight to their father. They then packed their gear to head home in time for Christmas.

The Wright Brothers kept studying and testing new designs. They wanted to make their Flyer better. They began to teach others to fly. They even opened their own flying school. The brothers became rich and famous. Everything was going well for them.

The First Airplane - Design and construction

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Photo: aviationshoppe.com

The Flyer was based on the Wrights' experience testing gliders at Kitty Hawk between 1900 and 1902. Their last glider, the 1902 Glider, led directly to the design of the Wright Flyer.

The Wrights built the aircraft in 1903 using giant spruce wood as their construction material. The wings were designed with a 1-in-20 camber. Since they could not find a suitable automobile engine for the task, they commissioned their employee Charlie Taylor to build a new design from scratch, effectively a crude 12-horsepower (9-kilowatt) gasoline engine. A sprocket chain drive, borrowing from bicycle technology, powered the twin propellers, which were also made by hand. In order to avoid the risk of torque effects from affecting the aircraft handling, one drive chain was crossed over so that the propellers rotated in opposite directions.

The Flyer was a canard biplane configuration. As with the gliders, the pilot flew lying on his stomach on the lower wing with his head toward the front of the craft in an effort to reduce drag. He steered by moving a cradle attached to his hips. The cradle pulled wires which warped the wings and turned the rudder simultaneously.

The Flyer's "runway" was a track of 2x4s stood on their narrow edge, which the brothers nicknamed the "Junction Railroad."

The First Airplane - Wright Flyer reproductions

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Photo: eaa.org

A number of individuals and groups have attempted to build reproductions of the Wright Flyer for demonstration or scientific purposes.

In 1978, 23-year-old Ken Kellett built a replica Wright Flyer in Colorado and flew it at Kitty Hawk on the 75th and 80th anniversaries of the first flight there. Construction took a year and cost $3,000.

The Los Angeles Section of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) built a full-scale replica of the 1903 Wright Flyer between 1979 and 1993 using plans from the original Wright Flyer published by the Smithsonian Institution in 1950. Constructed in advance of the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers' first flight, the replica was intended for wind tunnel testing to provide a historically accurate aerodynamic database of the Wright Flyer design. The aircraft went on display at the March Field Air Museum in Riverside, California. Numerous static display-only, nonflying reproductions are on display around the United States and across the world, making this perhaps the most reproduced single aircraft of the "pioneer" era in history, rivaling the number of copies – some of which are airworthy – of Louis Blériot's cross-Channel Bleriot XI from 1909.

The Oldest Airplane - The Wright Brothers

Orville and Wilbur Wright grew up in Dayton, Ohio, and developed an interest in aviation after learning of the glider flights of the German engineer Otto Lilienthal in the 1890s. Unlike their older brothers, Orville and Wilbur did not attend college, but they possessed the extraordinary technical ability and a sophisticated approach to solving problems in mechanical design. Sadly, in May 1912, Wilbur died from typhoid fever.

Orville was 77 when he died. He died while trying to fix his doorbell. Orville had led a good life. He had traveled all over the world to meet famous people. Even though he was so successful, Orville was still an ordinary guy. It is almost 100 years since that first flight. It is only right to honor the Wright Brothers, as the Centennial of Flight comes near. We honor Orville and Wilbur for making the dream of flight come true. And, for forever changing our world.

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