Wright Brothers

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Wilbur Wright-crop.jpg
Orville Wright 1905-crop.jpg

Wilbur Wright Signature.svg
Orville Wright Signature.svg
Wilbur (left) and Orville Wright (right), around 1905

The Wright brothers , also called Wright brothers , Wilbur Wright (born April 16, 1867 in Millville , Indiana , †  May 30, 1912 in Dayton , Ohio ) and Orville Wright (born August 19, 1871 in Dayton, Ohio, †  January 30 1948 ibid) were American pioneers of aviation who at the beginning of the 20th century completed flights with gliders and finally controlled flights with an airplane powered by a motor ( motorized airplane ).

Live and act


Wilbur and Orville Wright grew up as the third and sixth of the seven children of Protestant Bishop Milton Wright (1828-1917) in Indiana , later in Dayton, Ohio . Both attended high school but did not get any degrees. They were interested in technology and aviation very early on , which, according to their own memory, began when in the summer of 1878 their father gave them a helicopter toy, a so-called “helicopter”, which the two of them recreated after it was broken. Experiments with self-made kites have also been handed down. This has been very popular with US teenagers since Benjamin Franklin's experiments with electrical charges.

Bicycles and flying machines

The Wright brothers' workshop in 2000.

In the mid-1880s, the brothers started running a printing company. They printed local newspapers, church newspapers and catalogs, and at the end of the decade they were also doing journalistic work with a newspaper they founded. In doing so, they took on all of the essential work including sales. They had to give up their plans to build a factory for internal combustion engines due to lack of capital.

In 1893, they opened a bicycle repair shop in Dayton that became the Wright Cycling Company . With the Safety Bikes ( bicycles with two tires of the same size), cycling became easy and extremely popular. Bicycle clubs came into being for women, men and all ages, including Dayton. The brothers were enthusiastic about the new technology, and their sister Katherine, with whom they shared their house, also rode one of the new bikes.

The Wright brothers had become excellent mechanics by their own efforts; Contemporaries described her as punctual, hardworking and leading a modest life. With the bicycle workshop, they secured their material existence. Techniques that were used on modern bicycles can later also be found in the brothers' aircraft construction , for example in questions of balance , lightweight construction and chain drive . Aerodynamic experiments were carried out on a bicycle as a test vehicle. In 1895 they expanded their company with bicycle models that they had developed themselves. By 1900, around 300 bicycles were produced individually.

The brothers signed in correspondence with "Wright Brothers". Both remained unmarried throughout their lives and were closely associated with their sister Katherine.

Theory of flight

Flyer 1

In their autobiography, the brothers wrote: " Mouillard and Lilienthal , the great prophets of flight, filled us with their enthusiasm and turned great curiosity into the zeal of creative people." On May 30, 1899, Wilbur contacted the Smithsonian Institute in Washington the request for evidence of further literature; In this letter he expressed his conviction that "human flight is possible and practically feasible". He used all the time the company gave him to study aeronautical problems: "It is my wish to acquire everything that is already known about it, so that I can contribute my little bit to the ultimate success of a future inventor." by Otto Lilienthal's crash , the Wrights said they had to deal intensively with human flights. They proceeded systematically and began in 1896 with the study of all aeronautical literature, in particular Sir George Cayley , Octave Chanute , James Means , Louis Pierre Mouillard and Otto Lilienthal. Like Lilienthal, they developed their aircraft via the fettered kite and glider stations. They recognized that Lilienthal had solved the problem of dynamic lift and that his crash was the result of the inadequate controllability of his flying machine.

Double deck glider

Unmanned Wright glider (Wilbur left, Orville right) in Kill Devil Hills , North Carolina, 1901
Gliding in Kill Devil Hills , 1902
Flight of a coordinated right turn with wing twisting and rudder to compensate for the negative turning moment; Double-decker glider, Wilbur Wright, 1902

In 1899 the brothers began building the first flying machine, a double-decker glider. It already had an extremely important feature: the twisting of the wings, with which the horizontal position of the apparatus could be checked. Edmund Rumpler said of this invention, “which is directly modeled on the flight of birds”, that it “mainly contributed to the great success of the Wright brothers”.

The Wrights initially relied on Lilienthal's tables as well, but found that the Smeaton coefficient , a variable in the formulas for lift and drag , was incorrect. To conduct practical tests, they had their employee Charlie Taylor build a wind tunnel . The construction as a double-decker brought enormous advantages for the future engine installation: Such a construction generates more lift with the same span , so that the apparatus took off at a lower speed.

In October 1900, the two brothers initially tried the double-decker glide flight unmanned on the Kill Devil Hills six kilometers south of Kitty Hawk in North Carolina , a place on the Outer Banks on the Atlantic coast that was particularly suitable because of the strong and constant winds. In the summer of 1901, an improved apparatus allowed manned gliding flights up to 100 m and at up to 35 km / h headwind, with the pilot operating the apparatus lying down. In the fall, Octave Chanute , the now almost 70-year-old “great old man” of American aviation, was invited to attend the experiments. He and his assistant Augustus M. Herring (1865–1926) unselfishly helped to improve the glide device and was an enthusiastic advocate of the Wrights, both in the US and in Europe.

During the test flights, another important technical discovery was made with the negative turning moment : turning only by twisting the wing did not succeed. Only the attachment of a movable rudder and the synchronization of its deflections with the twisting of the wing made it possible to cancel out the negative moment and thereby maneuver at will. Alfred Hildebrandt , who was the first to acknowledge the activities in Germany, wrote after a meeting in the USA: "You have the feeling that you have people in front of you who you can rely on in every relationship and in all situations in life." And: “They never lose their calm, they never allow themselves to be pushed into something they did not want; they never allowed themselves to be tempted to attempt a flight in a weather that was unfavorable for them. ”The flight attempts were always in the foreground, however, Wilbur had the principle:“ If you want complete security, you would do well to stand by a window to sit down and watch the birds - but if you really want to learn something, you have to get on a flying machine and familiarize yourself with its peculiarities through practical experiments. "

In the years 1901 to 1903 numerous gliding flights with the double-decker glider followed, in 1902 alone more than 1000 flights, the longest over 622.5 m with a flight time of 26 s. After these successes, the Wrights applied for a patent for their aircraft design on March 23, 1903 and decided to equip the apparatus with an aircraft engine .

Double-decker powered airplane

The way to a pioneer flight

Orville's first successful flight in Kitty Hawk, which began powered flight in 1903

The Wrights cut a propeller and, since a suitable engine was nowhere to be found, had one made by Charlie Taylor in the bicycle factory. A water-cooled four-cylinder four-stroke gasoline engine with a capacity of 12 hp and weight of 81 kg was created in a very short time. To compensate for the torque, the flying machine received two propellers rotating in opposite directions. These were driven by roller chains, which were guided through pipes to avoid vibrations.

On the morning of December 17, 1903, Orville Wright was finally able to complete the first flight with the Flyer . He was in the air for 12 seconds and covered 37 m (10.8 km / h). Wilbur immediately followed, each flying twice that day. Wilbur managed a flight of 59 seconds with a flight distance of 260 meters (16 km / h).

The flying machine had a wingspan of 12.3 m, was 6.4 m long and 2.8 m high. It consisted of wood and a fabric covering and its flight weight was 340 kg. The pilot was lying on the lower wing.

Right to priority on the first powered flight

Wilbur after an unsuccessful attempt to fly, 1903

Orville later said of the December 17, 1903 flight that it was the first time in history that “a machine with a human being had, by its own power, raised itself in free flight in free flight, and flowed forward in a horizontal orbit finally landed without becoming a wreck ”.

This claim to priority has been and is questioned on various occasions. However, alleged earlier first flights ended in failure or are controversial as a fact:

  • Clément Ader carried out several uncontrolled flights on October 12 and 15, 1897, during which his flight apparatus was destroyed and as a result of which financial support from the French military was suspended.
  • Augustus M. Herring reported that he flew about 50 feet over the beach of St. Joseph in his motorized slope glider on October 22, 1898.
  • Gustav Weißkopf is said to have carried out his first powered flight as early as 1899. Several newspapers report a flight on August 14, 1901, in a flying machine he named No. 21 over allegedly 1/2 mile and at 50 feet.
  • Wilhelm Kress built a motorized seaplane with control stick , which went down on October 3, 1901 when attempting to fly.
  • Richard Pearse may have made an uncontrolled flight in 1903 but never claimed to have flown himself.
  • According to his diary, Karl Jatho carried out a flight 18 m in length and 0.75 m in height on August 18, 1903. In the course of the next 3 months he describes flights up to 60 m wide and over 2.5 m high in the diary.
  • Samuel Pierpont Langley's extensive flight attempts with the Aerodrome failed in 1903 a few meters behind his launch platform.

Wright Brothers Innovations

The evolutionary importance of the Wrights flights is undisputed. Her outstanding achievement was the development of the aircraft's aerodynamic control system around three axes, the prerequisite for controlled powered flight. They used a wing twisting mechanism , the forerunner of today's ailerons , to control the roll movement around the longitudinal axis (the lateral tilting), an elevator (attached to the front) to control the pitch movement around the transverse axis and a rudder to control the yaw around the vertical axis, without which a curve can neither be initiated nor exited again. With this three-axis control, they developed aerodynamically controlled powered flight, which is still the basis of aircraft construction today.

Although aircraft of the type “heavier than air” had already succeeded in detaching themselves from the ground before 1903, it was only this Wright invention that made powered flight a breakthrough. The flights of other aviation pioneers were partly uncontrolled or without a motor, partly the records are controversial. Above all, no one before the Wright brothers had managed to develop the experiments into a practically usable and salable aircraft.

The Wright brothers documented their flights in great detail, both photographically and in writing, so that there is no doubt as to their representation. However, their intention to exclusively sell their aircraft caused them to maintain extensive secrecy. It was not until 1908 that they decided - in view of growing competition - to do sightseeing in France and in 1909 in Germany.

Further development in Dayton

In 1904 and 1905 new devices were created with which the brothers changed design details and increased their flight performance. In 1904 alone they made 105 flights. For this they used the Huffman Prairie , a cow pasture east of Dayton, as an airfield, using a catapult with a 700 kg drop weight to take off to compensate for the lack of wind in this region. The site is now part of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base .

On September 20, 1904, the first "circular flight" was successful - the apparatus landed again at the launch site. On June 23, 1905, the Wright Flyer III flew for the first time. It showed a major technical change: the wing twisting (ailerons) previously associated with the rudder had to be controlled separately. On October 4, 1905, the apparatus flew in Dayton with 33 min 17 s for the first time over half an hour, the next day over 38.6 km in 39.5 minutes.

Patents and economic interests

The idea of ​​twisting wings

In March 1904, the Wrights applied for patent protection for their aircraft controls in France and Germany . To protect their interest in selling their aircraft, all flights were largely closed to the public. Their successes were therefore increasingly questioned, especially with the increasing French competition. In 1907 Wilbur went to France (without a flying machine and without any construction plans) to collect information about powered flights in Europe and to prepare for marketing his own machine.

The brothers had established their first contacts with the US Army and the French government as early as 1905 . In 1906 they reported in detail to the Aero Club of America about their flights. With the report as a reference, the brothers also offered the machine to the war ministries in Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia. In a letter to the Vienna Aviation Technical Association they explain:

“After these years of constant work and expenses, with not a single cent of recovery, we now find it advisable to make some provision for our financial future so that we can bring in the cost of further scientific research. Financial considerations prevent us from providing descriptions and pictures of one of our new machines. "

Public demonstrations

Wright Flyer in Le Mans , ~ 1907

Both the US Army and France made contracts dependent on flight demonstrations that were bound by conditions. This included the transportation of a passenger, the flight duration of one hour and the possible transport on army vehicles. In addition to these demands, the growing European competition also induced the Wrights to go public with their flying machine:

Wilbur demonstrated the new Model A aircraft as a guest of the inventor and automobile designer Léon Bollée in Le Mans , France. After weeks of ridicule and mishaps from the end of May 1908, Wilbur Wright's first public powered flight took place on August 8, 1908.

Wright Brothers Airplane

From August 8th to the end of the year, Wilbur Wright continuously increased his flight performance, carried passengers, won several awards and began to train students. He flew numerous records: On December 18, 1908, at the Auvours military training area near Le Mans, he reached an altitude of 115 meters and covered a distance of 99.8 km by flying 45 times an isosceles triangle, each of which was 1 km long. The short side was 200 m long. In addition, there was a distance of 400 m from the take-off and landing point. The flight time was 1 hour 54 minutes and 53.4 seconds. On December 31st, he flew 124 km in 2 hours and 20 minutes. A passenger who was held in the air for 69 minutes earned Wilbur Wright the Michelin Prize of 20,000 francs.

Orville Wright also began acceptance flights for the US Army in September 1908 . On September 9th, the first flight over an hour took place in Fort Myer ( Virginia ), on September 12th one with an officer, ie double load over 9 minutes. Five days later there was a fall from a height of 30 meters of a passenger mitfliegende officer Thomas Selfridge was killed and Orville Wright is a complicated fracture of the skull drew upon.

Among the numerous demonstration and sightseeing flights, Wilbur's circumnavigation of the New York Statue of Liberty attracted a lot of attention. During a screening in Italy in 1909, the first film recordings were made from an airplane (see Wilbur Wright and his flying machine ).

Activities in Germany

Advertisement for the Wright GmbH flying machine, 1910
Paul Engelhard in flight, Johannisthal airfield near Berlin, 1910
Advertisement for the Wright GmbH flying machine, 1910

In the spring of 1909, Wright GmbH was founded in Germany as a subsidiary of the Motor Airship Study Society. The conditions largely corresponded to the French model: for 200,000 marks and shares in the company, Wrights took over patents, rights and experience and the exclusive right to build the machines in Germany. The Wrights were obliged to do demonstration flights and to train pilots. Orville Wright became a member of the board of directors. The German Flugmaschine Wright GmbH became Wright's most successful aircraft factory in the following years.

Invited by the publisher of the Berliner Lokal-Anzeiger August Scherl , Orville, who had recovered from the flight accident, carried out demonstration flights on the Tempelhofer Feld in Berlin from September 4th to 20th , during which he achieved a world record of 172 m and for the first time a passenger flight of 1 hour 35 minutes. The almost daily flights found a total of 350,000 spectators. A few days later, Orville reached an altitude of 275 m during a flight on Bornstedter Feld near Potsdam , transported Crown Prince Wilhelm and, as agreed with the Motor Airship Study Society , trained Paul Engelhard as the first pilot for the Wright Society .

In the first financial year, 22 aircraft were built and 25 flight students trained at the Johannisthal flight school. In the following year, aircraft were also delivered to Russia, Denmark and Japan with the help of a Hamburg subcontractor. The Type A , produced from 1909, corresponded to the American original with an engine built under license in Berlin. On the type B , which was released in the USA at the same time, the front elevator control was moved to the rear. Other types were equipped with only one propeller and as a "military double-decker" with a gondola and 4 seats. The company went 1914 bankruptcy .

Return to motorless flight

Non-propulsion glider in Kitty Hawk, 1911
The Slider Library of Congress , 1911

In October 1911, Orville Wright returned to the sand dunes of the Outer Banks to test the steady wind to test engineless flight with a new glider. On October 24th, he managed a flight with a duration of 9 minutes and 45 seconds. This record was not broken until 10 years later when gliding established itself as a sport on the Wasserkuppe .

End of the Wright era

Wilbur, undoubtedly the conceptual head of the brothers, died of typhus in the spring of 1912 . Orville continued to work in aviation research until his death, without succeeding in reinventing himself with worldwide recognition. Wright's patents have been challenged in several lawsuits. After several years of dispute, the result was only of historical value. After a few years, the Wright flying machines were no longer able to cope with the technical development of the flying machines that they had triggered themselves. French and German designs were soon superior to the Wright machines, which adhered to the design principle of double-deckers with pusher propellers.


Postage stamp of the Deutsche Bundespost Berlin 1978

The Wright brothers received numerous honors, including the honorary doctorate of the TH Munich in March 1909 and the medals of honor from the city of Dayton, the state of Ohio and the government of the USA in June. As early as 1907, the brothers had been made honorary members of the Vienna Aviation Technical Association. In 1909 they became honorary members of the German Airship Association .

The first powered airplane, the Flyer , was owned by the Science Museum London from 1928 to 1948 , before it ended up in the National Air and Space Museum . The Flyer is now also known as Flyer 1 or Kitty Hawk . The specimen flown on Tempelhofer Feld is in the Deutsches Museum in Munich .

In Kill Devil Hills , North Carolina , the Wright Brothers National Memorial has a museum and memorial to commemorate the Wright Brothers' first flights and their influence on the development of aviation.

Since 1983, the license plates of the US state of North Carolina have also been reminding of the scene with a picture and the words First in Flight .

Two of as part of the commemorative series 50 State Quarters of the US Mint United States Mint issued coins remind Wright also on the achievements of the brothers.

The Wright Piedmont Glacier in Antarctica has been named after them since 1960 .


  • Wilbur Wright: Otto Lilienthal , 1912
  • O. & W. Wright: Flying machine , US patent 821,393
  • Wilbur and Orvill Wright: Unser Flieger , in: Heinrich Adams: Flug , Leipzig 1909
  • The Papers of Wilbur and Orville Wright , Ed .: Marvin M. McFarland, New York 1953

See also


Web links

Commons : Wright Brothers  Album with Pictures, Videos and Audio Files
Wikisource: Orville Wright diary  - sources and full texts (English)

Individual evidence

  1. a b David McCullough: The Wright Brothers Simon & Schuster London 2015 p. 22ff.
  2. ^ Telegram from Orville Wright in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, to His Father Announcing Four Successful Flights, 1903 December 17 . World Digital Library . December 17, 1903. Retrieved July 21, 2013.
  3. ^ Documentation of the flights in December 1903
  4. Compilation of the criticism of the Wrights' statements
  5. ^ Tilmann Remme: Pioneers in the sky. The riddle of the first flight . Documentation by ZDF , July 24, 2016
  6. ^ Research by J. Brown
  7. Peter Supf: The book of German flight history . Volume 1, Klemm Verlag, Berlin 1935. pp. 219-226
  8. ^ Wiener Luftschiffer-Zeitung. No. 7/1906, p. 189.
  9. Werner Schwipps: The Wright Brothers and their Airplanes in Germany. Edition Thon, Schwerin 1998
  10. Stanley W. Kandebo & Dawne Dewey (ed.): Wilbur Wright's flights in France. Leon Bollee's Photographic Record 1908-1909 .
  11. Donald B. Holmes: Wilbur's Story. Lulu Enterprises, London 2008, ISBN 978-1-4092-0100-7
  12. Flight edition January 2, 1909, p. 3
  13. ^ National Soaring Museums , Orville Wright Biography
  14. Sepp Moser , 1997 In: Guido Knopp: 100 years. The Pictures of the Century 2003, ISBN 978-3-430-15502-1 p. 23: The common thesis that Wilbur and Orville have always undertaken their years of efforts to conquer the air as equal brothers is simply wrong. Wilbur was the genius and the driving force, Orville his assistant and follower.
  15. North Carolina license plate number