Wright Brothers First Flight, 1903

Wright Brothers First Flight, 1903

Source: Library of Congress Photo 2A13.

Orville and Wilbur Wright, of Dayton, Ohio, made rapid progress in developing the first airplane after writing to the Smithsonian Institution in 1899 asking for publications about flight. They soon developed a large kite using an innovative system of flight controls and wing-warping that made the kite more maneuverable. By 1900, the Wrights were testing a glider incorporating these breakthroughs at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. The site was chosen for its wide open spaces, steady winds, and supportive local population. The Wrights returned to Kitty Hawk in 1901 and 1902, testing more and more sophisticated and controllable aircraft. Finally, on December 17, 1903, Orville Wright made the first flight with a self-propelled, heavier-than-air airplane. The flight lasted only 59 seconds and traversed just 852 feet (284 meters) in the air, but the event marked the beginning of modern aviation.