On December 17, 1903, two brothers from Dayton, Ohio, named Wilbur and Orville Wright, were successful in flying an airplane they built. Their powered aircraft flew for 12 seconds above the sand dunes of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, making them the first men to pilot a heavier-than-air machine that took off on its own power, remained under control, and sustained flight.
The Wright brothers' ideas for flight control were tested on a series of unpowered aircraft between 1900 and 1902. These aircraft were all flown as kites to obtain aerodynamic performance. The Wright Brothers were kite enthusiasts and they used the kite flights in the same way that modern engineers use wind tunnels and flight testing to try out their ideas concerning flight control. Kitty Hawk, North Carolina was chosen for their early flight experiments because its consistent high winds off the ocean are perfect for kite flying. The brothers correctly reasoned that a free flying object had to be controlled about all three primary axes; roll, pitch, and yaw. Their aircraft were built with movable surfaces on the wing, elevator, and rudder. Control of the surface shape was in the hands of the pilot. They extensively tested these ideas by glider flights of the aircraft.
The early kite and glider experiments did not meet the performance goals which the brothers calculated before the flights. In late 1901, the brothers began to doubt the data which they were using to design their aircraft. They built a wind tunnel and developed model-testing techniques including a balance to more accurately determine the lift and drag of their aircraft.
They tested over two hundred different wings and airfoil models to improve the performance of their gliders. Their very successful 1902 aircraft was based on their new data.
Besides being airplane designers, and test engineers, the Wright Brothers were the first pilots of a heavier than air, powered aircraft.
They developed their piloting skills by...