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  • In 1878 in Dayton, Ohio, Orville and Wilbur Wright's father gave the youngsters a toy helicopter. It was made quite simply out of paper, cork, and bamboo, and it used an elastic band to make it move. The brothers not only played with it, but it also inspired them tremendously.

    In the late 1800s, the idea of people being able to fly was nothing more than a dream. At that time, there were no machines that were able to carry people up into the sky. Despite this, Orville and Wilbur were so excited by their toy helicopter that they started trying to create small helicopters of their own. They were only seven and eleven years old at the time and despite attempting to build larger helicoptors, the brothers were met with failure. Despite this, they were not discouraged! The Wright brothers had just discovered something that would continue to inspire them for many more years.

    Nearly twenty years later, in 1899, the Wright brothers were working in a bicycle shop that they owned together. They were still obsessed by the idea of a flying machine, so when they were not busy, they would continue to study more about flight and wings, and even create different types of wings.

    They focused on three main areas:

    1.    Just like birds, an aircraft would need wings to help it fly.

    2.    To make the aircraft move, they would need some sort of engine or motor.

    3.    The aircraft would need a control system to guide it along.

    The Wrights were not unique in their pursuit of flight. One man, Otto Lilienthal, had shown that wings, when designed correctly, could allow a human to glide or fly. Another man, Samuel Langley, invented a steam engine aircraft. The big problem was that he had no idea how to make it take off or land, or even turn! The main issue that everyone shared was how to control an aircraft.

    Orville and Wilbur were not only intelligent, but they were also very observant. They spent a long time looking at pigeons and watching how they moved in the air. They realized that when birds want to turn, they move their wings into a different position. For example, to turn, the pigeon would make the tip of one wing go upwards, while the other went downwards. The Wright brothers had found their solution!

    With plenty of inspiration from their pigeon friends, Orville and Wilbur started working on a pair of wings that were so long that they could move much like bird wings. The wings needed to be long but also quite flexible instead of rigid. The test glider that the brothers came up with had four wings; two on each side, with a large space in between, and bars to attach them together.

    The next issue was finding a large, windy area where they could test out the glider. Orville and Wilbur sent a letter to the Weather Bureau.s office, and received a number of suggestions for an ideal location. The one they settled on was Kitty Hawk, an isolated beach in North Carolina. The two brothers headed to Kitty Hawk in 1900.

    The first glider test at Kitty Hawk was with a pilot in the airplane. However, the brothers realized this was quite dangerous, so they decided to attach long ropes to the plane and fly it like a kite. The ropes were attached to the wings, which helped them to control how the plane moved. As they tested it, the brothers made notes and measurements of how the glider worked so they could improve upon its design.

    The next summer, Orville and Wilbur went back to Kitty Hawk with a new glider. This time, Wilbur acted as the plane.s pilot. During the first day, he flew the new aircraft, completing seventeen glides at the beach. The longest glides were between fifteen to twenty seconds. Think about that compared to airplanes today! Although his flights were very short, the brothers discovered that their new system could control the plane. It did not work as well as they hoped it would, so the men headed back home to research and further redesign their glider.

    That same winter in 1901, Wrights began testing a model glider using a wind tunnel. It was simply a long box made of wood, with a fan at one end. When they turned on the fan, it blasted air down the length of the box at a steady speed. This allowed Orville and Wilbur to test out many different types of wings they had designed. With each test, they would note how the wings performed. In this way, they could tell which designs worked better than others, and so they developed a better pair of wings for their glider.

    In 1902, the Wrights tested out their glider once again. This time it managed a flight of more than 500 feet (versus only 300 and 400 feet previously). Since this test was successful, the brothers focused next on propellers. A year later, they went to Kitty Hawk with their glider outfitted with an engine and propellers. It was a very exciting moment, and a few people even came out to help them. After tossing a coin, it was determined that Wilbur would fly the plane. He flew it for only three and a half seconds before it unfortunately crashed.

    Still determined, they brothers fixed the damage in a couple of days and tried it again. This time, Orville flew the plane, and even used a camera to document the launch. His initial flight was around twelve seconds, but by the end of the day, he had managed a flight of almost a minute long and 852 feet in distance. It was enough to prove to the world that the Wright brothers had successfully invented an airplane that could carry a human being! More significantly, it marked the very beginning of the Age of Flight.