While there were many attempts at flight and documented flights in gliding aircraft and lighter-than-air airships, the first flight of an aircraft that was externally powered and heavier-than-air was achieved in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina on December 17, 1903, by the Wright Brothers.
Orville Wright (1871-1948) and Wilbur Wright (1867-1912) were brothers who, after learning mechanics from their time owning and operating the Wright Cycle Shop in Dayton, Ohio began to research and experiment with aerodynamics and how to apply mechanics to power a manned aircraft. The Wright Brothers were inspired by the successful efforts of Otto Lilienthal, a pioneer of non-powered aviation involving gliding aircraft and aerodynamics research and engineering, who died during his efforts to advance the science of flight.
After building upon their mechanical knowledge with the aerodynamic experimental and engineering records of the earlier pioneers of aerodynamics that are the core of flight in any air vehicle which is required to maintain lift and attitude adjustments to maneuver safely through the atmosphere, the Wright Brother’s went to the sand dunes of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina where they began their flight experiments in 1900. After many experimental trials and collection of data, the Wright Brother’s realized they needed to analyze their theories in a controlled environment.
For this reason, Orville and Wilbur returned to Dayton, Ohio in 1901, where they built a wind tunnel and continued to experiment. After countless experiments, and over 1000 flights in their gliders, they mastered how to build and control their aircraft while not being powered by an engine, which was their next aviation milestone. The Wright Brother’s designed and built their own four cylinder, 12 horsepower engine for their first externally-powered-aircraft. This 750 pound engine was installed in the airframe and could achieve 31 miles per hour in this arrangement.
With the engine installed in their airframe, the first flight of an externally powered aircraft was achieved in the monumental flight in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina on December 17, 1903, which lasted for 12 seconds at a range of 120 feet. On the same day, with the same aircraft, the Wright Brothers achieved a 59 second flight at a range of 852 feet.
Through the efforts of Orville and Wilbur Wright, who built upon the engineering and research of previous pioneers in aerodynamics, they led America and the world in modern aviation and aerospace engineering.