The Online Library of Knowledge

Famous inventors

Orville and Wilbur Wright

Orville and Wilbur WrightOrville and Wilbur Wright Orville (1871–1948) and Wilbur Wright (1867–1912) were American inventors; they built and flew the world's first successful aeroplane. Brought up in Dayton, Ohio, the Wright brothers started their own newspaper in 1889. They then became bicycle manufacturers and repairers, while at the same time, having been inspired by the research of German aviator and "Glider King", Otto Lilienthal (1848–96), they developed an interest in aircraft and the possibilities of manned flight.

The first successful flight of the Wright FlyerThe first successful flight of the Wright Flyer

A mallard in flightA mallard in flight


Observing birds in flight, the Wright Brothers noticed that, as they flew into the wind, the air flowing over the curved surface of their wings created lift. The birds could also change the shape of their wings to make turns in mid-flight. The brothers realised they could use this technique by "warping": twisting part of the wing of an aircraft.

Wright glider, 1902Wright glider, 1902


The Wright brothers worked out that a free-flying object needed to be controlled in three different ways: pitching (climbing or diving), yawing (turning to the left or right) and rolling. From 1899, they tested their ideas by making thousands of test flights in gliders, sometimes flying them as unmanned kites. In this way, they gradually perfected their controls, including incorporating a mechanism which enabled the pilot to warp the wings and thus roll the aircraft to the left or right. It could now "bank" or lean into a turn like a bird—or a cyclist.

By 1902, the brothers had constructed a glider with a 10-metre (32-foot) wingspan and a movable tail that would help balance their craft in flight.

The first fatal air crash occurred on 17th September 1908. Orville Wright, who was piloting the plane, survived, but his passenger, Thomas Selfridge, did not. He was the first man to die in an aeroplane.

© 2019 Q-files Ltd. All rights reserved. Switch to Mobile