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Know Ohio: The Wright Brothers Take Flight

Ohio is proudly called the "Birthplace of Aviation" because two Ohioans, Orville and Wilbur Wright, invented the first airplane, and changed the world of flight forever!

Class Discussion Questions:

1) How did the Wright Brothers use trial and error in building their flying machine?

2) Explain how the Wright Brothers used the engineering process and/or the scientific method to build the flying machine.

Read the Script:

I bet you don't think twice when you see an airplane flying overhead, but back in the early 1900s, most people didn't even believe such a thing was possible. In those days, the science of flight involved things like kites and gliders, definitely not airplanes. 

But in 1903, some brilliant Ohioans invented the first airplane, and that changed the world of human flight forever. Yep, I'm talking about the Wright Brothers, who were from Dayton, Ohio. 

Orville and Wilbur Wright were inspired by a German man who built gliders. These gliders allowed people to experience the sensation of flying, but they were not easy to control and didn't have any engines to give them power. So gliding was quite a novelty at the time, and demonstrations of it drew captive audiences. While most people considered engine-powered flight to be the stuff of science fiction, the Wright Brothers actually believed it could be done. 

Several years before building their first airplane, Wilbur Wright wrote to the Smithsonian Institute asking for any research on human flight that had been done already. He wrote: My observation have only convinced me more firmly that human flight is possible and practical. It is only a question of knowledge and skill. I have some pet theories as to the proper construction of a flying machine. I wish to avail myself of all that is already known and then, if possible, add my might to help on the future worker who will attain final succcess. 

The Wright Brothers were willing to do the research but also relied on lots of trial and error to get off the ground. Their early gliders in the beginning of the 20th Century went through lots of practice runs. 

The more they flew, let's be honest, the more they crashed, the more they learned. The glider they made in 1900 was the first to be able to carry a human. The next one, in 1901, they made with a larger wing. They made lots of flights on this one, sometimes attaching it to a string and using it more like a kite to catch the wind. 

The brothers tested out their gliders near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina; they chose that spot because of the constant source of wind, and I'm sure landing in sand as opposed to the hard ground was also a plus. The brothers forged on, even creating their own wind tunnel in Dayton, where they could experiment with designs. In 1902 their glider was improved with a rudder that would let them steer where they flew. 

Look at Wilbur testing the glider out. Yeah, they were super dedicated to learning how to fly even though the flights were short, and the gliders didn't have much if anything for landing gear. In 1903 their famous first powered flier took to the sky. It was the first machine to have a controlled and sustained flight with a pilot aboard. You can see how the flier has many similarities to their past glider models, but they added an engine and propellers. 

The Wright Brothers made their first successful flight on the sandy beaches of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. That flight only lasted 12 seconds and the airplane traveled just 120 feet in a straight line, but you have to start somewhere, right? They retured to Dayton, Ohio with their airplane, which is where they perfected the design of a fully-functioning airplane. After that, the Wright Brothers became worldwide celebrities and they field of aviation literally took off.

Learn a little more...with a link!

Website: National Park Service, Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park | Plan your visit to this historic Ohio park honoring the Wright Brothers.

Website Article: Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company, Katharine Wright | Visit this virtual museum and learn about the important but forgotten Wright Brothers’ sister.