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The airplane’s invention: 10 years later (1918)

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Flights epoch making

Both these flights were epoch making in that the Wrights did not keep to a straight course. For the first time they circled one of the dunes and also returned to the starting point after a straight flight of three-quarters of a mile. The observers commented on the skillful manner in which the big canvas bird made the curves.

The writers who covered these initial flights stuck strictly to such facts as they were able to obtain. There was no romancing, no fanciful descriptions and no haphazarding of guesses. Yet these plain accounts, now known to be accurate, were regarded with great suspicion when they were received in newspaper offices. The reporters were frequently cautioned to be conservative and one man was commanded by the editor of a Cleveland paper to confine himself to facts and “cut out all this wildcat stuff about two-mile flights.”

The final experiment was made May 14. At noon that day, the Wrights left the grounds and made a flight of eight miles, the distance being judged accurately over ground carefully measured. All previous speed records were broken, two of the eight miles being made in two minutes mid forty seconds. Several short flights were then made, and late in the day, Wilbur Wright, with Furness, his mechanician, rose in the air to beat even the eight mile record. At the height of twenty feet, he started up the beach in a north easterly direction, and in the face of a twenty-mile-an-hour wind.

Machine sailed beautifully

In chronicling this flight, one of the reporters wrote: “The machine sailed along serenely under the bright blue sky like a thing endowed with life. Behind her floated a flock of gulls and crows that seemed at once amazed and jealous of this new thing of the air. Reaching the hills that jut out on the beach, the cruiser of the air proudly lifted her nose and, kiting upward, passed easily over the thirty-foot summit.

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“She then careened on down the beach until the three-mile limit was reached, when, with another twist of the lever she described a graceful turn and began the journey back to the starting point. With the same ease and grace she made the return, appearing and disappearing at intervals as the sand hills intervened, and circled the hangar, swung in a half circle once more and was off again over her old tracks down across the sand dunes.

“The picture was astounding and picturesque at once. There was not a motion visible when she passed the observation point of the correspondents, and once more she lifted up and passed over the hill and out of sight. It was the last vision the correspondents had of the graceful airship. Down the home stretch between the sea and the sand hill, something gave way. The watchers heard a whirring of the machine and then all was silent. While we waited for her to reappear, word was brought that the ship had been wrecked. A wrong lever had been pulled, and her nose, instead of elevating, had turned down, and she had dived into the sand. A guy wire cut Wright on the nose, but he escaped other injury.”

The next appearance of the Wrights at Kitty Hawk, was made in the fall of 1911, when Orville Wright conducted a series of experiments in a glider in the hope of perfecting a stabilizing device. No engine was used. During one night he remained stationary in the air 30 feet above the crest of Kill Devil Hill ten minutes and one second, thereby breaking the world’s glider record.


Page 1 – First photo: Orville Wright demonstrating a Wright brothers’ airplane for the US Army in Fort Myer, Virginia on September 9, 1908 (via National Archives, Washington DC). Second photo: Allies flying in formation during WWI. Third photo: Wilbur and Orville Wright.

Page 2 – First photo: 10 years after history was made, at the Dayton Wright Airplane Co. Second photo: Wilbur Wright talking to reporter George Dickin of the New York Herald on October 3, 1908.

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