They flew through the air…well, not necessarily with the greatest of ease, but they sure made history doing it. On December 17, 1903, the Wright Brothers made their first powered, heavier-than-air flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

Their plane, the Wright Flyer, was based on their past experiences constructing gliders. It was constructed from a giant spruce and a specially commissioned automobile engine built by their employee, Charlie Taylor. The sprocket chain drive was borrowed from bicycle technology, and the twin propellers were made by hand.

The Flyer was definitely not designed with the pilot’s comfort in mind—the man flying he plane had to ly on his stomach on the lower wing to reduce drag, and steer by moving a cradle attached to his hips. Despite this discomfort, the plane was flown four times over the course of the day, with Orville piloting it first. The maiden flight lasted all of 12 seconds and the plane flew 120 feet, less than the wingspan of a modern 707. The brothers switched off for their flights, going a little further, until they finally managed to take the plane 852 feet in just under a minute. The flight was successful, but the landing was not: it broke the front elevator supports. The Wrights hoped to repair it and fly the plane to Kitty Hawk village, but a gust of wind caught the Flyer, tumbled it, and damaged it beyond repair.

The Wrights went on to build more flyers and continued to perfect their designs with each one, finally managing to make a 39-minute, 24-mile circling flight in October 1905. And thus, a new way of moving over the earth was born.

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