he Wright Flyer (the Kitty Hawk, often retrospectively referred to as Flyer I or 1903 Flyer) was the first successful heavier-than-air powered aircraft. Designed and built by the Wright brothers, they flew it four times on December 17, 1903, near Kill Devil Hills, about four miles (six kilometers) south of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.


Role Experimental airplane
National origin United States
Designer Orville and Wilbur Wright
First flight December 17, 1903
Number built 1
Developed from Wright Glider
Developed into Wright Flyer II
Wright Flyer III
Other name(s) Kitty Hawk, Flyer I, 1903 Flyer
Manufacturer Wright Cycle Company
Manufactured 1903
Owners and operators Wright Brothers
Last flight December 17, 1903
Flights 4

Curtiss / Wright Aircraft

Curtiss Aircraft

The Wright Flyer (the Kitty Hawk, often retrospectively referred to as Flyer I or 1903 Flyer) was the first successful heavier-than-air powered aircraft.

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Wright 1903 Flyer

Design and development

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 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 gasoline engine. A sprocket chain drive, borrowing from bicycle technology, powered the twin propellers, which were also made by hand.



The Flyer was a bicanard 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.



  • Wright Flyer reproductions

    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

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Wright Flyer 1903 "Trainer"

The Wright Flyer was conceived as a control-canard, as the Wrights were more concerned with control than stability.[13] However, it was found to be so highly unstable that it was barely controllable.[14] During flight tests near Dayton the Wrights added ballast to the nose of the aircraft to move the center of gravity forward and reduce pitch instability. However, the basics of pitch stability of the canard configuration were not understood by the Wright Brothers. F.E.C. Culick stated, “The backward state of the general theory and understanding of flight mechanics hindered them… Indeed, the most serious gap in their knowledge was probably the basic reason for their unwitting mistake in selecting their canard configuration


  • General characteristics

    • Crew: 1
    • Length: 21 ft 1 in (6.43 m)
    • Wingspan: 40 ft 4 in (12.29 m)
    • Height: 9 ft 0 in (2.74 m)
    • Empty weight: 605 lb (274 kg)
    • Max takeoff weight: 745 lb (338 kg)
    • Powerplant: 1 × straight-4 water-cooled piston engine, 4 inches (102 mm) bore by 4 inches (102 mm) stroke.
    • Performance

      • Maximum speed: 30 mph (48 km/h, 26 kn)
      • Service ceiling: 30 ft (9.1 m)
      • Wing loading: 1.4 lb/sq ft (6.4 kg/m2)
      • Power/mass: 0.02 hp/lb (15 W/kg)

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Taking turns, the Wrights made four brief, low-altitude flights that day. The flight paths were all essentially straight; turns were not attempted. Each flight ended in a bumpy and unintended "landing." The last flight, by Wilbur, was 852 feet (260 m) in 59 seconds, much longer than each of the three previous flights of 120, 175 and 200 feet (37, 53 and 61 m) in 12, 12, and 15 seconds.

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