On December 17, 1903 the Wright brothers made the world's first flight in a power-driven, heavier-than-air machine that cost about $1000 to build. With Orville at the controls and Wilbur on the ground, the plane flew 120 feet in twelve seconds. Although man had dreamt of flying for centuries, it took these two unschooled young men (bicycle shopkeepers by trade) to finally lift us off the ground.
Key to the Wright brother's success was their methodical engineering and testing that went "beyond the trial and error methods of their contemporaries. When their test flights did not produce as much lift as they had expected, they went back to first principles and carried out a series of scientific experiments with their home-built wind tunnel and bicycle balance." Best clicks are the multimedia wind tunnel and bicycle balance experiments. Unfortunately the Shockwave simulations seem to work only with Netscape browsers.
This site opens with a quote from German hand glider engineer Otto Lilienthal. "To invent an airplane ... is nothing. To build an airplane ... is something. But to fly ... is everything." In addition to the terrific photo gallery and exhaustive database of early aviators, I recommend The Tale of the Airplane. There you will find what the authors call a "Puritan fairy tale. It is the story of how two honest, straightforward, hard-working Americans accomplished something fantastic and magical -- creating a craft of stick and fabric that mounted the air like the chariots of the gods, opening the skies to all humankind."
Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina (about half way between Kitty Hawk and Nags Head) was the site of the brothers' first flight. This National Memorial (and associated Web site) tell their story. "â€˜They have done it!' ... said a witness to the first human flight. But so often had this claim proven hollow that the public was skeptical of yet another, especially after the spectacular failure of Langley's flying machine nine days earlier. Undismayed, the Wrights built an improved flyer and refined their flying skills over a field in Ohio, making 105 flights in 1904."
A full-scale replica of the historic 1903 Wright Flyer is preparing to undergo tests in the world's largest wind tunnel at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. During the test, engineers will study the replica's stability, control, and handling at speeds up to thirty mph. The results will be compiled into an historically accurate aerodynamic database of the Wright Flyer. Join the engineers in online Web chats and other special events, as they prepare for next month's wind tunnel tests.