The Wright Brothers’ Flight, 1903

Photograph shows the first powered, controlled, sustained flight. Orville Wright at the controls of the machine, lying prone on the lower wing with hips in the cradle which operated the wing-warping mechanism. Wilbur Wright running alongside to balance the machine, has just released his hold on the forward upright of the right wing. The starting rail, the wing-rest, a coil box, and other items needed for flight preparation are visible behind the machine. (Orville Wright preset the camera and had John T. Daniels squeeze the rubber bulb, tripping the shutter.)

On Dec. 17, 1903, Wilbur and Orville Wright made four brief flights at Kitty Hawk, N.C., with their first powered aircraft. The Wright brothers had invented the first successful airplane.

They inaugurated the aerial age with the world’s first successful flights of a powered heavier-than-air flying machine. The Wright Flyer was the product of a sophisticated four-year program of research and development conducted by the Wright brothers beginning in 1899. After building and testing three full-sized gliders, the Wrights’ first powered airplane flew at Kitty Hawk, Dec. 17, 1903. This image shows the Wrights’ first powered airplane in mid-flight with Orville at the controls and Wilbur mid-stride, right. The airplane flew for 12 seconds and a distance of 120 feet.

This photo and the Wright Flyer are two  of 137 million artifacts, works of art and specimens in the Smithsonian’s collection. They are on display at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum.

Posted: 15 December 2011
About the Author:

Jessica Porter Sadeq has worked in the Central Office of Public Affairs since June 2007. In August 2008 she joined the Internal Communications department as an internal communications coordinator.

2 Responses to The Wright Brothers’ Flight, 1903
    • Alex di Giovanni
    • Nice catch, Sarah. The original plate is indeed held by the Library of Congress. The image in our exhibition at the Air and Space Museum is a copy.