Spotlight: Wilbur and Orville Wright – The men who defied gravity

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Who are the Wright brothers?

For centuries, people dreamt of flight, many attempted it, but it was the Wright brothers who turned that dream into a reality. They were the first to create a sustained, controlled flight with a heavier-than-air machine.

Wilbur (April 16, 1867 – May 30, 1912) and Orville (August 19, 1871 – January 30, 1948) Wright, were born in the USA. When they were young, their father gave them a toy helicopter made out of bamboo, cork, and rubber bands. Their fascination with the toy grew into a life-long obsession with flight and culminated in the creation of the first fixed wing aircraft that could be controlled, sustained and powered. On December 17, 1903, the Wright Brothers proved that flight was a reality!

Leading up to their success, the brothers were fixated on solving the problem of flight. ‘How do we generate enough power to propel the aircraft into the air and keep it going?” Rather than focus on building more powerful engines, which other inventors were doing, their breakthrough came in the form of the three axis control or pilot controls, that enabled the pilot to maneuver the aircraft and maintain its equilibrium in the air.

How did they come up with such an invention?  Funnily enough, they gained the engineering skills necessary for their breakthrough by working in their bicycle shop. Their work with bicycles shaped the idea that a flying machine could be steered and balanced with practice.

The Wright brother’s breakthrough motivated many to develop flight into a frequent form of transport for goods and people, and the first commercial flight occurred only 11 years after the brothers wowed the world with their invention.


Wright brother’s journey to flight – a brief timeline:

1896 — The Wright brothers tackle the flying problem.

1899 — Wilbur invents pilot controls for the  aircraft and builds a kite to test it.

1903 — The Wright brothers make the first controlled, sustained powered flights at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

1905 — The Wrights develop a practical airplane near Dayton, Ohio.

1906 -The Wright brothers file their first US patent for the pilot control system.

1909 — The Wright brothers start to manufacture airplanes.


Inquiry – Digging Deeper




Challenge yourself by finding out more about how airplanes fly by watching the video. In this video, you can see how all the forces work together to propel and keep an aircraft in the air. Amaze your parents and friends with your new-found knowledge.