Aviation history : The First Practical Aircraft


Wright Flyer II (1904)

In a letter to renowned pioneer Octave Chanute dated 5 October 1904, Wilbur Wright wrote: "In fact it is a question whether we are not ready to begin considering what we will do with our baby now that we have it." By the spring of 1904, Wilbur and Orville Wright had decided to establish a flying field eight miles from Dayton to continue their experiments, develop their machine, and make tests flights with a new and improved aircraft (known as Flyer II); the Flyer II was the first aeroplane to cover a flight duration of more than five minutes on 9 November 1904. As the new testing site lacked the strong and steady winds of Kitty Hawk and the airplane did not have sufficient power to take off unassisted, the Wrights designed a launching device in the form of a derrick from which a weight dropped to propel the aircraft. By 1905, they had developed their third machine, the Flyer III, with which they flew on a regular and sustained basis; the Flyer III proved to be the first truly practical airplane.


24 April 1979 – Paraguay – History of aviation – 75th Anniversary of civil aviation – 35th Anniversary of ICAO

Wright Flyer III (1905)

To keep their knowledge from falling into competitors' hands, the Wrights stopped flying and disassembled the airplane on 7 November 1905. Two and a half years later, having obtained patent protection and won American and French contracts to sell their airplane, they refurbished the Flyer with seats for a pilot and passenger and equipped it with two upright control levers and installed one of their new 35 horsepower in-line vertical engines; so, the pilot would sit upright for the first time. The new aircraft was named Model A. They made practice flights with the Model A near the Kill Devil Hills in North Carolina from 6 to 14 May 1908 to test the new controls and the Flyer's passenger-carrying abilities. On 14 May 1908, they made history again with the world’s first two passenger airplane flights.


At the end of May 1908, Wilbur and Orville Wright separated. They went off in different directions, something they hadn’t done since beginning their flying experiments. Orville returned to Dayton to start work on a Type A Flyer for the U.S. Army Signal Corps tests, which would take place at the Fort Myers army base, Viginia near Washington, D.C. He began demonstration flights on 3 September 1908 and set news records every day. Starting the third week of test flights, disaster struck. On 17 September 1908, Orville Wright took off with a young Signal Corps Office Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge (1882-1908) as passenger; at an altitude of about 100 feet (30 m), a propeller split, sending the aircraft out of control. Selfridge suffered a concussion in the crash and later died. He was the first person to die in an airplane crash and also the first active-duty member of the U.S. military to die in a crash while on duty. Orville was badly injured, suffering broken ribs and a leg.


On the other hand, Wilbur sailed for France where he would assemble and demonstrate the Flyer aircraft; from 21 August 1908 to 2 January 1909. Wilbur made more than one hundred flights there, captivating France and the rest of the world with his aerial feats. Wilbur’s triumphant season in France made him an international celebrity. Eugène Lefebvre, French aviation pioneer, was the first pilot to be killed, while flying the Wright Model A on 7 September 1909 at Juvisy, France.


The Wright Model A was so successful that it was not until 1910 that a change was made. In that year, the Wrights made major changes to the design of their aircraft and created the Model B; they added landing wheels in place of skids and moved the forward elevator to the rear of the plane for better control, as in today’s conventional airplanes.


With the death of his brother Wilbur on 29 May 1912, Orville Wright lost the partnership that had carried the world into the age of heavier-than-air flight. Orville continued some development and built in early 1913 a seaplane, the Model CH derived from Model C (an early military aircraft produced in the United States and which first flew in 1912) equipped with twin floats and flying from the Miami River.


23 October 1978 – Cyprus 

Anniversaries and events 1978: 75th Anniversary of first powered flight

One of Wilbur’s passengers, in the Wright Flyer A, was the Wrights' business agent in Europe, Mrs. Hart O. Berg, USA, who became on 7 October 1908 the first woman to fly as a passenger in an aeroplane at Le Mans, France. In those Victorian days, it was considered shocking for a woman to show her ankles. Seated in the right seat of the aircraft, she tied a rope securely around her skirt at her ankles to keep it from blowing in the wind during the flight. After she landed, she took a few hobbling steps before the cord was removed. A French fashion designer watching the flight was impressed with the way Mrs. Berg walked away from the aircraft with her skirt still tied. Mrs. Berg was then credited with inspiring the famous "Hobble Skirt" ladies’ fashion.


1 December 1978 - Bophuthatswana

75th Anniversary of first powered flight and 30th anniversary of ICAO

When Wilbur Wright retuned home in the summer of 1909, he made his first public flights in America. On 29 September 1909 in the Wright Flyer A, as part of the great Hudson-Fulton Celebration in New York City, he flew across New York harbour and circled the Statue of Liberty at waist level.


1 December 1978 - Bophuthatswana

75th Anniversary of first powered flight and 30th anniversary of ICAO

The Flyer Model CH was the Wright’s first hydroplane, built in 1913; it was basically a Model C equipped for taking off and landing on water. A smaller pontoon mounted under the rudder supported the tail.


1 December 1978 - Bophuthatswana

75th Anniversary of first powered flight and 30th anniversary of ICAO

The cachet of the cover shows the Wright’s Flyer Model A aircraft. It was the first two-seat aircraft in which the occupants sat upright. Orville Wright sits in the passenger seat (on the right of the pilot), while his brother Wilbur is adjusting controls. In this model, a new control system would allow the pilot to operate all controls by means of two levers, as shown on the picture.


24 April 1979 – Paraguay 

History of aviation – 75th Anniversary of civil aviation – 35th Anniversary of ICAO

Wright Flyer III (1905)

The text in German "Es war die Maschine, welche die Gebrüder Wright selbst als ihr erstes voll verwendbares  Motorflugzeug betrachteten." is translated in English as follows:

"This was the engine, which the Wright brothers viewed as the first fully practical airplane."