4 Facts and Activities to Celebrate the Wright Brothers’ Flight
On December 17, 1903, Wilbur and Orville Wright made history by flying the first manned, motorized, heavier-than-air “flying machine” at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Through imagination, hard work, and years of research and experimentation, they achieved the centuries-old dream of human flight. Today, you’re invited to let your imagination fly with a few Wright-related facts and activities.
Four Wright Brothers Facts
- A Toy Inspired Their Interest in Aviation. Did you know that a toy helicopter inspired the Wright brothers’ lifelong interest in flight? In 1878, the boys’ father gave them a rubber-band-powered helicopter made of paper, bamboo, and cork. Fascinated by the toy, the brothers began building their own paper helicopters, improving on the original design and learning some basic concepts about aeronautics in the process.
- Wright’s Style of Problem Solving. The brothers’ experience with manufacturing and riding bicycles helped them solve a critical problem in early flight. They were the first inventors to understand that, like a bike, the airplane’s movement must be constantly controlled on three axes—horizontal, vertical, and lateral.
- Their First Patent. Experimenting with biplane box kites, reading everything about flight that was available to them, and observing birds in flight, the Wright brothers discovered that twisting or warping a kite’s wings would allow them to make the kite dip and turn as a bird dips one wing to turn. After a lot of trial and error, they developed a system of cables and pulleys to control “wing warping” and lateral movement; a hinged rudder to aim the plane during turns; and a forward elevator to control up and down movement, or pitch. In fact, this control system was so important that the brothers patented it before patenting the plane itself.
- Wright Brothers’ Wind Tunnel and the Science of Aerodynamics. The shape of the wings influences the plane’s lift and drag—the forces that push an object upward or slow it down as air moves past it. To find the best shape for aircraft wings and correct their predecessors’ previous miscalculations, the Wright brothers sought an efficient way to measure the effect of these forces. So, in 1901, the brothers built an ingenious six-foot wind tunnel and balances that allowed them to measure lift and drag on dozens of different wing shapes.
Four Wright Brothers-Related Activities
Now that you know a few facts about the brothers, try these age-appropriate activities to see firsthand what they learned through years of trial and error:
For Grades 1–6:
- Build a paper helicopter and conduct experiments to find out what the Wright brothers learned about air, mass, and resistance.
For Grades 6–12:
- Read about lift and drag and watch a demonstration here.
For Grades 5–8 and 9–12:
- Build a paper airplane and experiment with folding the wings [PDF] in different ways to understand how the Wright brothers used wing warping to guide their plane.
- Use this interactive model to learn how each part of the control system affects the plane’s movement.
For All Ages: