Wright Brothers – The Kitty Hawk Years

Articles relating to the years the Wright Brothers spent at Kitty Hawk.

The Wright Brothers first successful flight at Kitty Hawk in 1903 utilized a direct link to bicycles for solving the mysteries of flight. The connection between a bicycle and an airplane represented a new paradigm that was the key that would lead them to success.

The other significant aviation experimenters, although more highly respected in scientific circles, were stuck in an old paradigm that blinded them to a productive path to success. They knew that their gliders lacked control in flight but were blinded by their paradigms to solve the problem. Otto Lilienthal, the famous German glider experimenter, attempted control of his gliders by shifting his body, a limitation that resulted in his death. Octave Chanute, the American experimenter and historian, and Samuel Langley, Smithsonian Secretary and others tried to design a craft that would exhibit automatic stability by allowing the wings and tail to pivot freely in response to wind gusts.

The Wrights, using a different paradigm, foresaw that the key to manned flight was control by a pilot who could control an unstable airplane just as a bicycle rider learns to control an unstable bicycle. Both vehicles require a constant series of conscious and unconscious moves to maintain balance and control.

The Wrights were not afraid of instability, in fact they welcomed it because with pilot control the machine could be made to go where the pilot wanted to go.

This reasoning ultimately led the Wrights to solve the riddle of flight where so many others had failed. The others, trapped in their old paradigms, had concluded that man’s reflexes were too slow to respond to wind gusts. They believed a pilot was only necessary when a change of direction was desired.

The Wrights concluded that man was an intimate part of the airplane and was necessary to make continuous adjustments to maintain balance of an unstable machine as when riding a bike.

Axes of Movement

Bicycles have two axes of movement to worry about in order to maintain balance. These are performed by moving the handlebars and by leaning the body. Others had mostly ignored the roll dimension, so critical to bicycles, as critical to airplanes. James Means, editor of the Aeronautical Journal (1896), is one who saw the connection. “To learn to wheel one must learn to balance.” Those who harbored the old paradigm didn’t get the message.

The Wrights’ realized that an airplane is more complicated than a bicycle because there were three axes of movement to maintain balance. The pilot must control (1) roll, (2) yaw (nose left and right) and (3) pitch (nose up and down). The axes of movement must be performed in synchronization just like riding a bicycle.

Their insight led them to search for a built-in mechanical means to enable the pilot to execute the necessary aerodynamic changes to maintain balance in the three dimensions with a minimum of physical effort. This lead them to the critical breakthrough concept of wing warping as a means to control the roll dimension by the torsion of the wing tips.

Wing warping along with synchronization of the elevator for pitch control and the tail for yaw control provided control in all three dimensions.

Other experimenters were familiar with the use of an elevator and tail. They used the tail to steer left and right in a flat plane. The elevator was used to steer up and down.

The most revered American aviation expert was Langley. He designed a movable tail and an elevator on his Great Aerodrome. Both were spring mounted to compensate for wind gusts and the pilot could also move his body to make adjustments. However, his aerodrome could only hope to make straight flights.

The Aerodrome never even got that chance because it crashed into the Potomac River on launching from a house boat just nine days before the Wrights’ first successful flight on December 17, 1903.

The Wrights were way ahead of their contemporaries. It would be 1908 before the Wrights’ system of control would be understood and accepted by the worldwide aviation community

The Bicycle Business

The Wrights became interested in solving the problem of flying when the famous German flight experimenter, Otto Lilienthal, lost control when a gust of wind tipped his glider and he died after the glider crashed on August of 1896. They pondered over why Lilienthal had failed.

At the time, the Wrights owned one of fourteen bicycle shops in Dayton, Ohio. They established their first shop at 1005 West Third Street in Dayton in 1892 for rental and repair. Wilbur was 25 and Orville was 21.

It was a time when bicycles were popular and touted as a “boon to mankind” and “a national necessity.” Prior to that, the Wrights were in the printing business and published a local newspaper. Orville’s interest in newspapers dated back to the eighth grade in school where he published a school newspaper.

Unfortunately, their newspaper business was not doing well financially, but fortunately for the world, they became interested in the bicycle business because people were constantly asking them to repair their bikes. Even then, the Wrights had a reputation for having exceptional mechanical skills.

They were active bicyclists themselves, buying their first bikes in 1894, and leaders in a Dayton bicycle club called the YMCA Wheelman. Orville won a number of medals for winning bike races. He considered himself a “scorcher.”

Wilbur didn’t race. He would rather take long, slower rides. He did, however, act as a “starter” for Orville. His lack of interest in racing was the result of a hockey injury he received in high school when a hockey stick hit him in the jaw and knocked out several teeth. Bicycle racers are prone to fly headfirst over the handle bars in an accident.

In the spring of 1895, they opened the Wright Cycle Company at 22 South Williams Street in Dayton. In 1896, they first began to make mostly handcrafted bicycles under their own brand names of the St. Clair and the top-of-the-line, the Van Cleve. Each was built up from raw tubing and brazed with a machine the Wrights had developed themselves. Each frame was brush-painted with five coats of either black or carmine enamel. They built wheels with either wooden or metal rims.

This is the location is where they first decided that human flight was possible and discussed the possibly of pursuing the riddle of flight. It was Wilbur that started the discussion. He felt trapped in the business world that was not using all his potential.

As a side note, the Frank Hamburger family lived at 26 South Williams St. and owned a hardware store nearby on 1107 West Third St. During the Dayton flood of 1898, the hardware store basement was flooded. Orville and Wilbur did business with the hardware store and when it became flooded the brothers helped Hamburger rescue the supply of nails stored in the basement which would have become rusted in the water.

The brothers would accept no compensation from Hamburger for their help, but they did accept some free hardware items from time to time.

One of the chief features of their bicycles was a wheel hub of their original design that only needed oiling every two years. They also invented a pedal that wouldn’t become unscrewed while pedaling. The only items that the Wrights didn’t make were the tires, handle bars and seats.

“We are very certain that no wheel on the market will run easier or wear longer than this one and we will guarantee it in the most unqualified manner.”

The brand name Van Cleve comes from John Van Cleve who was a pioneer ancestor of the Wrights on their father’s mother side of the family. The St. Clair was named after General Arthur St. Clair who was the first governor of the Northwest Territory.

The Wrights built several hundred bicycles of both brands. The bikes cost around $50. They never made more than $3,000 a year in the bicycle business but it was enough to finance their flying experiments. The total costs of these experiments through 1903 were only $1200. The bicycle business was doing well enough that they gave up their printing business in 1899. They had already delegated most of printing work to Ed Sines by that time.

Their first customer for a bicycle was William Lincoln, a third cousin to President Abraham Lincoln.

They stopped making their own bicycles in 1904 so that they could devote full time to the airplane business. They continued to repair and sell other brands of bikes and hired others to do the work.

Their bicycle shops were located in six different locations over the years as the business grew. In 1897 they moved both the bicycle and printing business into their sixth and last shop located at 1127 West Third Street. This is the historic “Cycle Shop” where the first airplane were invented, designed and constructed. The building along with the Wrights’ home on Hawthorn St. was purchased by Henry Ford in 1936 and moved to Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan.

Few of the bicycles survive today because many were destroyed or damaged in the flood of 1913. There are two Van Cleve bicycles at Carillon Park in Dayton and one ladies Van Cleve at the Air Force Museum. There is one St. Clair that resides at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. This is the only St. Clair made by the Wrights that survives.

One day a customer came into the bicycle shop when the wind tunnel was running and asked what that wind tunnel had to do with making Van Cleve bicycles? Orville answered, “It has nothing to do with the Van Cleve except that the Van Cleve paid for it.”

It was a St. Clair bike that the Wrights fitted with a horizontal wheel to test wing foils prior to building their wind tunnel in 1901.

Bicycle manufacturing turned out to be the ideal preparation for engineering an airplane. They designed their airplane to accomplish these objectives and in the process incorporated in their design bicycle parts such as: the oversized sprocket and chain that drove the propellers, a frame structure similar to the tubular steel double-triangle frames used in their bicycles, and the bicycle chain that was used in the wing warping linkage.

There were other bicycle-related uses. They laid on the wing instead of sitting upright in order to reduce drag just as bicycle riders do in a race. They used two modified bicycle hubs as wheels on the unattached dolly that was used to ride the launching monorail during takeoff. The twisting of an inner tube box resulted in developing the structural solution for implementing wing warping.

Their bicycle business provided them with the machine tools and skills for building their gliders and airplanes. They learned to work with sprockets, spikes, tires, metals, lathes and drills.

The Wrights also knew that one had to learn how to fly an airplane, the way one learned to ride a bicycle. To learn to ride a bicycle, one must learn to balance; to learn to fly, one must learn to balance — through constant practice. The first flight in 1903 went 120 feet, the second 175 feet, the third 200 feet, and final flight went 852 feet. They were learning. In the process they invented the concept of an airplane pilot.

The celebration of the Wright Brother Centennial has created new interest in recreating the 1900-1902 Wright gliders and the 1903 Flyer. The brothers didn’t make the job easy because they didn’t give much thought to preservation or documentation.

The 1899 kite that Wilbur flew in Dayton to confirm his wing warping idea did not survive.

The 1900 glider was abandoned in the sand at Kitty Hawk. They had given it one last toss from the top of a dune. Bill Tate’s Family put glider to good use. Bill received permission to use the remnants of it. As a result, Tate’s daughters had new dresses made out of the French sateen wing fabric. The skeletal remains of a wing could still be seen when they returned the next year. It disappeared in a storm with 93-mph winds that hit the Outer Banks on July 25, 1901.

The 1901 glider was stored in a shed and later some of the struts of the salvaged 1901 glider were used in the 1902 glider.

Milton Wright, son of Lorin Wright, in a speech at the Smithsonian in 1948 commented that, “Since no one in our family could afford to waste good wood or metal or fabric, it was usual to use parts of old machines to make up new machines.”

The 1902 glider was stored in the rafters of their shed when the Wrights left camp on August 28 because they planned to fly it again when they returned in 1903.

The 1902 glider was left behind again after the first flight of the Flyer in 1903. When the Wrights returned to Kitty Hawk in 1908, they found the skeleton of its wing sticking out of the sand outside the original hanger. The roof of the hanger had collapsed spilling the 1902 glider and two Chanute gliders on the ground. A resident of the area told the Wrights that a group of boys had carried away everything that looked interesting.

The 1903 Flyer was virtually destroyed after its fourth and most successful flight of the day on December 17, 1903. A gust of wing caught the stationary Flyer and sent it tumbling over the sand. The engine legs were broken off and the chain guides bent. Many of the rear ends of the ribs and the struts were broken.

The Wrights did decide to save the remains. The wreckage was boxed up and shipped back to Dayton. There the crates were stored without unpacking in a shed behind their bicycle shop on Third Street where they remained until 1928 when the Flyer was reassembled for display in England.

In 1913 the great flood that engulfed Dayton rose to the height of 12 feet. The crate with the Flyer was submerged under water. Records, letters, and diaries of invention were stored on the second floor of the bike shop.

On a shelf behind their house on Hawthorn St. were stored the irreplaceable photograph negatives of their Kitty Hawk and Huffman Prairie flights, including the famous picture of the “first flight.”

The Flyer was partially protected by a layer of mud. Orville cleaned mud off the top of the crates and put them back into the shed.

The records survived with little damage. The glass plate negatives had some damage but were not a total loss. The famous photograph of the “first flight” was slightly damaged on the lower left corner.

Orville at one point talked about burning the Flyer, but was talked out of that drastic measure. In 1928 he took the remains of the Flyer out of the crates, restored it from memory and sent it to his friends in England for display in the British Science Museum.

At question is how good was Orville’s memory. The Wrights made no detailed engineering drawings of the Flyer or the gliders because they treasured secrecy. Wilbur drew one 3-view sketch of the Flyer on brown wrapping paper (now housed at the Franklin Institute). They really didn’t require engineering drawings because they built what they conceived and made changes in the field.

Also, Orville was restoring the Flyer for display, not for flight. Absolute adherence to historical accuracy was unnecessary.

After the Flyer returned to America, The National Air and Space Museum constructed a set of engineering drawings based on the restored Flyer. But, there still remain many construction details that are unknown.

The 1904 Flyer was burned to make more room in their Dayton hanger at Huffman Prairie.

The 1905 Flyer, the first practical airplane, was left to rot in the sand at Kitty Hawk after its last flights in 1908. It was latter salvaged by others and restored under Orville’s guidance. It now resides in splendor at Carillon Park in Dayton.

After 1903

by Dr. Richard Stimson

in The Kitty Hawk Years

In their career in aviation, they designed, built and flew about 1/2 dozen different designs. Total production of airplanes in America from 1909-1915 was 100. They also built and sold airplanes all over the world.

The airplane stayed in those same crates untouched for 13 years. In 1916 some of Orville’s friends persuaded him to rebuild that airplane. He used some parts he could use from the original and replaced other parts that couldn’t be used. All these other parts that couldn’t be used are scattered all over America.

Kitty Hawk has the cracked engine block, one broken propeller and some of the cloth. The other broken propeller is in the Smithsonian Institute, Washington D.C. Some parts are in the Air Force Museum in Dayton. Other parts are in the Franklin Institute in Pennsylvania.

When Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon he had in his possession a piece of the original cloth of the Wright Brother’s airplane.

So our journey has taken us from the lonely wind swept sands of Kitty Hawk, NC to Tranquility Base on the lonely windless surface of the moon and we did it all in the lifetime of a human being.

By Darrel Collins

Darrel Collins is the knowledgeable and articulate Wright brothers historian at the Wright Brothers National Memorial Park, Kill Devil Hills, NC. This article is an edited version of one his interpretive talks that he recently gave at the park. Bob Holland and David Brinkley of radio station WCRS Akron, Ohio who provide programming for the blind recorded it.

Control, Key to Human Flight

How many children like homework? The key to the success of the Wright Brothers was that they did do their homework

They didn’t just jump head first to try to solve this problem.

They wrote to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. in 1899 asking for all available information on man’s early attempt to solve the problem. In essence the Wright Brothers learned from other people’s mistakes. They studied those that had attempted flight as far back as the 500-year-old drawings of Leonardo Da Vinci.

From all the information they identified problems that would have to be solved by the scientific method in order to achieve powered flight. They were true engineers.

The problem the Wright Brothers identified in 1899 as the key to human flight was the problem of control. And that is the problem the Wright Brothers solved at Kitty Hawk. It would take them four years to solve that one problem.

One of the very first books that the Wright Brothers studied on the subject was a book by Octave Chanute. He was an expert at that particular time. He published a book in 1894 named, “Progress in Flying Machines.”

This is a letter that Wilbur Wright wrote to Octave Chanute on May 13, 1900. It is probably the very first letter written by the Wright Brothers dealing with the subject of aerodynamics.

I want you to listen to Wilbur Wright’s passion, his desire, and his commitment in trying to solve this problem.

Dear Sir:

“For some years I have been afflicted with the belief that flight is possible to man. My disease has increased in severity and I feel that it will soon cost me an increased amount of money if not my life.”

On the cold windy morning of Dec. 17, 1903 the dream came true. Wilbur and Orville Wright made the world’s first successful powered flights in a heavy than air machine.

Five years after this historic event in Paris, France after Wilbur Wright had taught the Europeans to fly, at a banquet held in his honor on the evening of Nov. 5, 1908 Wilbur Wright spoke to members of the Aero Club of France.

“It is not really necessary to look to far into the future. We have seen enough already to see that it will be magnificent.”

The prediction is much truer for us today than it was in his lifetime. Four years after that speech in Paris at the age of 45 years old, Wilbur would pass to the great beyond. His brother, Orville Wright, would live to see it all.

Wright Memorial, Kitty Hawk

At the Wright Memorial in Kill Devil Hills, NC there is a large granite boulder that marks the spot where the Wrights made their famous flights in 1903. It was first placed at the site on Dec. 17, 1928 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the first flight. This boulder was the first marker placed on this site.

We are getting ready for the big celebration now on Dec 17, 2003. It will mark an important milestone in the history of the world – 100 years of powered flight. But it also marks the end of a great era. Technology born at this site shortly after the turn of the 20th century has allowed man to travel to the moon in the lifetime of a human being.

Orville Wright was here for the 25th celebration. Along with Orville was a young lady. She was very much interested in aviation, Amelia Earhart. She had become the first woman to fly the Atlantic Ocean in June 1928.

They started work on this park in 1927. That monument on the hill was dedicated to Wilbur and Orville in 1932. Orville was there that day. Remember his brother, Wilbur, had been dead for 20 years. Wilbur died of Typhoid Fever at the age of 45 in 1912. He didn’t live long enough to see the dream of his and his brother fulfilled.

Orville lived to 76 years of age and died in 1948.

On the other hand, do you realize what Orville Wright saw in his lifetime?

He saw Dogfights of WW I, he saw the rocketry in WW II and the beginning of the jet age with German jets. The year before Orville died, Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in the Bell X-1. It was an inventor’s lifetime.

At that time the Wright Memorial was the largest monument and probably still is dedicated to a living human being in America. Other monuments were constructed all over the world for the Wright Brothers in Germany, in France and in Dayton.

The most impressive monument, however, is in Kitty Hawk where it all began.

Wright Brothers in Kitty Hawk

They were looking for a place to fly gliders and kites. He wrote to the National Weather Bureau in Washington, D.C. inquiring of a place on the East Coast where the wind was constant.

Kitty Hawk, NC was on the list. They tried to write a letter to all of these places and tried to get people to reply.

Wilbur wrote to the Kitty Hawk weather station, established in 1875. It was located four miles up the beach on the ocean side. That’s where the Federal telegraph office was located.

Somehow this letter ended up in the hands of the postman of Kitty Hawk. His name was William Tate. He was the most educated man living on the Outer Banks at the time. So he was put in charge of writing back to Wilbur Wright.

Tate wrote Wilbur, there are no trees or grass, and this was open beach and deep sand.

To the west was the sound. You might see a few sailboats. To the east you would see waves breaking on the ocean shore.

In a bad hurricane the ocean would wash completely across the narrow beach all the way to the sound. It will still do that today in a bad hurricane.

At the time there was Kill Devil Hill, West Hill and two little hills. West Hill was 90-feet high, as high as Kill Devil Hill is now and there were two little hills that were each 40-feet high. The little hills blew away in a hurricane of 1912, the same year that Wilbur died.

On top of the hills, the Wright Brothers would carry on their glider experiments.

In 1902, the year before they built the first powered airplane; they flew their glider off the tops of these hills 1,000 times over a period of six weeks. Almost 500 times each.

Three-axis Control

In 1899, the Wright Brothers identified control as the key to human flight. It took them four years to solve that one problem.

The three axis of control consist of roll, pitch and yaw.

Roll: Roll is the motion controlled by ailerons. On the Wright machines it was known as wing warping. This is the motion that everyone in the world at that particular time thought was suicidal. No one would ever do this to an airplane or glider except the Wright Brothers. This is the trademark of the Wright Brothers invention. It allowed an airplane to turn under control. No one else in the world could make an airplane turn.

Pitch: Then we have pitch, the up and down motion controlled by the elevator.

Yaw: Then we have that old southern word, yaw, controlled by the rudder in the back.

The control that the Wright Brothers developed at Kitty Hawk in 1902 has withstood the test of time. It has proven to be the fundamental principles around which everything that flies has evolved in the last 100 years.

Airplanes and gliders are not the only man-made flying machines that utilize roll, pitch and yaw. Everything that flies – rockets, missiles, satellites, helicopters and the space shuttle on takeoff and final approach.

This is the immortal legacy of the Wright Brother’s achievements at Kitty Hawk. They did much more than just build and fly an airplane. They changed the world forever.

Flying at Kitty Hawk

Their gliders were hand launched. Two local fellows would take the glider to the top of the giant sand dune. The pilot would lie prone on the long wing of the glider. The two local fellows would run with the glider down the hill into the wind and let her go.

At this point in 1902 the Wright Brothers were having a ball. I don’t know about the local fellows.

Because on days when the wind was blowing right, they would log in that 1902 glider over 100 glides in one day.

Kill Devil Hill is a big pile of sand. In 1902 it was 120 feet high covering 31 acres of sand blowing in the wind. In the 25 years between 1903 and 1928 it had moved 450 feet toward the southwest.

I want you to imagine running up and down in ankle deep sand with an almost 250 pound glider 1,000 times. I don’t know where you are from, but that’s what we on the Outer Banks call southern hospitality.

They had wide-open spaces and deep soft sand to land on.

It was very hard to get here by sailboat. When you got here there weren’t too many people around to make fun of you. The Wrights walked around in suits and ties all day long.

Privacy, secrecy and isolation they found here that they couldn’t find anywhere else.

Tate said, “You boys come on down here and I will help you anyway I can. So they came and they would always come back until they died.

The Wright Brothers truly loved the Outer Banks of NC. They claimed that Kitty Hawk “cured all ills.”

The First Flight

On that morning of Thursday Dec 17 1903 the wind blew out of the northeast at 27 mph with gusts of nearly 30 mph. The open beach was cold. It had rained the night before and some of the fresh water puddles that had accumulated around the campsite had frozen over.

They waited until about 8 o’clock to see if the wind would die down some, but after a while they figured it wouldn’t get any better.

So Orville tacked a red sheet on the far side of their living quarters That bed sheet was a prearranged signal for the men at the Kill Devil Hills Life Saving Station, a quarter of a mile south on the beach, to come over and help them. They were about to fly the machine and it weighed over 600 pounds. The Wright Brothers couldn’t manhandle it by themselves.

Three men came from the station that morning – Etheridge, Dough and Daniels. A couple of locals also came. Brinkley, from Manteo, and Johnny Moore, a 16-year-old boy who just happened to be passing by.

We don’t know where Johnny Moore was headed. It was 8:30-8:45 Thursday morning. He might have been running a little late. Johnny Moore didn’t make it to school that day. You see, Johnny Moore stopped to see an airplane fly.

They took the plane from the hanger and set it up at the end of the launching monorail. There were no wheels on the plane. They knew about wheels because Orville raced bicycles and they were in the bicycle business. But they couldn’t use wheels on the machine because of the deep sand.

They had to devise a way to launch the airplane. So they had to build a runway. Their runway consisted of just wooden 2 x 4s sitting straight up with a wood crosspiece on the bottom and a little metal strip on top. The four 15-foot long pieces were placed end to end to provide a runway that was 60 feet long. Talk about a short takeoff – 60 feet.

Along this rail a dolly would move down the rail on two bicycle hubs mounted one behind the other. They would balance the main weight of the airplane on the dolly.

This whole starting system cost the Wright Brothers a grand total of $4.00. They only spent $1,200 for the whole five years.

During takeoff the machine and dolly moved down the 60-foot rail driven by the thrusts of two 8-½ foot propellers in the back. They were the world’s first true propellers. They were designed from the Wright Bother’s wind tunnel tests. The Wrights were the first to understand that a propeller is a revolving wing.

Each propeller was hand carved out of laminated spruce from a mathematical equation. The propellers developed 75 pounds of thrust each. So you have 150 pounds of thrust pushing the 750-pound machine through the air.

Once the machine lifted off the rail it would leave the dolly on the rail. The machine had an undercarriage shaped liked a sled to land on the sand.

Then they would have to drag the machine all the way back, set it up on rail and start over again. Later they would put wheels on their airplanes.

One of the Wright’s hobbies was photography. They set the camera up in the background focused on the end of the rail where they thought that the machine would takeoff.

Orville instructed John T. Daniels, one of the witnesses, to squeeze the bulb when the machine took off. Daniels had lived on the Outer Banks his entire life. You had to put a cover over your head and when you looked through the camera everything looked upside down.

When John Daniels saw that 750-pound machine takeoff, he lost it all. He was so excited that he couldn’t remember if he had squeezed the bulb or not.

This was not Instamatic film. These were 5 x 7-inch glass negatives. They had to be kept in solution until you developed them.

Can you imagine the excitement when the Wrights returned to their home in Dayton in their darkroom when the images of that first flight appeared on that glass negative?

It is the most famous picture in aviation – man’s first successful powered flight. And Daniels almost blew it.

When they set the camera up, focused it and told John Daniels to squeeze the bulb, they were looking after every one of us. So when your children or grandchildren have children, they can bring their children here and they can witness for themselves the miracle that occurred at Kitty Hawk.

For many people at that time flight was considered a true miracle

This photograph is just another example of how far Wright Brothers were looking into the future. They say a picture is worth 1,000 words.

When Orville released his restraining bar that was physically holding the machine back, that machine was moving down the rail into an almost 30-mph wind. Moving at about 7-8 mph groundspeed, it was moving so slow that brother Wilbur, dressed in his suit and tie, could run along.

You can see his footprints in the sand as Wilbur ran along keeping the right wing balanced before the machine even took off.

Footprints in the sand; It always reminds me of footprints that were left somewhere else. Only 66 years after the first flight at Kitty Hawk, man walked on the moon. The footprints are probably still there too.

After a 40-foot run, down the 60-foot rail, the machine lifted into the air and Orville Wright flew 120 feet in 12 seconds. “Twelve seconds to the stars.”

The entire flight could have flown inside a C-5A airplane.

It was a dawning of a new era in the history of mankind. And, life as many of our fathers knew it would never be the same again. Remember that little things do go long ways.

They would take turns after that first flight. They dragged the machine all the way back and set it up on the rail. Wilbur flew the second flight. Orville flew the third Flight.

Do you see what they were doing? Do you remember the first time you ever tried to ride a bicycle? Who was helping you out? Your daddy was helping you out. He propped you up, got you going and let you go. Then what happened? You fell down. He picked you up and got you going again.

There was nothing wrong with your bicycle!

The Wright’s machine was capable of flying eight miles.

Wilbur flew the fourth flight. It went 852 feet and stayed in the air for 59 seconds.

Wilbur and Orville were camera enthusiasts. Even before they got serious about flying, they loved to take pictures of family and home, bicycles, neighbor kids and events. In 1896 they wrote a weekly publication called Snap-Shots. Their father was interested in genealogy and had the children photographed several times as they grew up. So it was only natural that when the brothers began their flying experiments they would take lots of pictures.

Prior to 1902 they used a 4 x 5 camera.

For their later experiments they used one of the best cameras on the market, a “5 x 7” Korona-V made by Ernst Gundlach of the Gundlach Optical Company, Rochester, N.Y. It was a dry glass plate camera mounted on a tripod. Orville paid $85 for the camera, which was a fairly expensive investment for the penny-pinching Wrights.

The Korona-V camera used at Kitty Hawk is on display at the Carillon Historical Park in Dayton.

The Wrights didn’t bother with making detailed engineering drawings, so the best record we have of the invention of flight is revealed in the many pictures they took of their gliders and airplanes from their first glider in 1900 through the first practical airplane in 1905. It is the first major invention whose development was fully documented on film.

For each photo they kept a record of the date, subject, f-stop and type of film. Exposures were rarely shorter than 1/25 of a second.

There are at least 1,500 original prints that exist and some 300 glass-plate negatives that have survived. Some of the negatives, including the picture of the first flight, were damaged from being under water in the Dayton flood of 1913. The brothers printed all their photographs themselves in their darkroom located in a shed behind their house.

Wilbur once remarked: “In the photographic darkroom at home we pass moments as thrilling as any in the field, when the image begins to appear on the plate and it is yet an open question whether we have a picture of a flying machine, or merely a patch of open sky.”

They only took one picture of their glider at Kitty Hawk in 1900. The other pictures were of their surroundings like typical tourists.

In 1901, their friend Octave Chanute advised them to keep a detailed record. “Please take plenty of snapshots. You will want them to illustrate what you write.” But I don’t think they needed any advice because they recognized the important function photography would be in documenting their work.

And of course the most famous picture of all is the one that John T. Daniels, a local man from the life saving station, took of the first flight on the morning of December 17, 1903. Orville had set up the camera and carefully aimed it at the end of the launching rail. A class plate held in an light-tight holder had to be inserted into the back of the camera and the “dark side” removed before each exposure.

He instructed Daniels about how to snap the shutter and told him to do so the instant the Flyer left the rail. The shutter was air driven with a hand-held bulb used to blow air through a tube and push the shutter into action. Daniels had never taken a picture before but miraculously the picture turned out to be perfect.

A life-size sculpture depicting the famous scene has been constructed at the Wright Brothers National Monument. The bronze-and-steel piece will depicts the famous scene of the first flight and will shows Daniels behind the camera.

Most of the surviving photographs taken during 1900 with their 4 x 5 camera were of the landscape at Kitty Hawk and views of their camp. It was like they were tourists on vacation, which in a way they were. The photographs they took were of their glider flown as a kite on a tether.

The following years the photographs were mostly of their flying experiments. These were more difficult to do because they had to catch the moving glider within the frame of a camera mounted on a tripod. This required skill as well as a certain degree of luck.

They added to the camera a convertible anastigmatic lens that helped. The lens allowed the Wrights to vary the focal length from a wide angle to a long lens. The combination provided a slightly wide-angle view that was used to increase the probability of the glider being captured on the photographic plate.

The Wrights often discouraged photographs taken of them. In May 1903, Octave Chanute wrote them and requested they send him pictures of themselves to be included in an article on the Wrights that Chanute wrote for publication in the French magazine L’Aerophile.

Wilbur answered, “Your promise of our portraits for L’Aerophile is causing us a great deal of distress. I do not know how to refuse you when you have put the matter so nicely, and on the other hand, we haven’t the courage to face the machine (camera).”

The Wrights didn’t like others taking pictures of their machines either.

In 1905 at Huffman Prairie, reporters began to appear to investigate the increasing reports on the Wright Brothers’ flying activities. Wilbur positioned a person on the entrance road to tell any reporters that cameras were not welcome.

In 1908 in France, Wilbur jumped over a low fence to confront a man who was taking unauthorized pictures of his airplane that was in the process of being prepared for takeoff.

In 1909 at Fort Myer during the Army trial flights, Wilbur discovered a photographer snapping pictures after a minor crash. He picked up a piece of wood and threw it at him, then demanded the exposed plates.

When you look today at the pictures of flight that the Wrights Brothers took, one can almost experience the exhilarating thrill that they must have felt.