The first working airplane was invented, designed, made, and flown by the Wright brothers, Wilbur Wright (Apr. 16, 1867 - Dec. 1, 1912) and Orville Wright (Aug. 19, 1871 - Jan. 30, 1948). Their “Wright Flyer” was a fabric-covered biplane with a wooden frame. The power to the two propellers was supplied by a 12-horsepower water-cooled engine.
On December 17, 1903, the “Flyer” flew for 12 seconds and for a distance of 120 feet (37 m). The flight took place at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, USA.
Orville and Wilbur Wright were raised in Dayton, Ohio. Although they did not go to college, the brothers had intuitive technical ability. Before building their airplane, they had built a printing press and operated a bicycle repair and sales shop. They constructed their own bicycles. The profits from their bicycle business funded their airplane-building venture.
The brothers chose Kitty Hawk to fly their planes because it was an isolated town on North Carolina’s Outer Banks that had steady winds and sand dunes on which they could glide and land gently, maximizing their safety. The brothers’ first glider, tested in 1900, failed to fly. A second trial in 1901 fared better, but they went on the improve the design. Later that year, the brothers built a wind tunnel in which they tested over 200 wing and airframe designs. This resulted in a successful glider (unpowered) model (flown in 1902 at Kill Devils Hills near Kitty Hawk).
Back in Ohio, the brothers designed a 12-horsepower internal combustion engine which they planned to use to power the flight of a two-propeller plane. The machinist Charles Taylor helped them build a new plane which would use this engine.
Returning to Kitty Hawk, they began test flights in 1903. The engine stalled during a December 14 try (with Orville flying). After three days of repairs, the plane accelerated on a monorail track and flew into the air, staying up for 12 seconds; it flew 120 feet. That day, the brothers took turns flying the plane. On the last flight that day, Wilbur flew 852 feet in 59 seconds.
During the next few years, the brothers developed more sophisticated planes. They later formed the Wright Company, which built and sold their airplanes. Wilbur Wright died in 1912 of typhoid fever; Orville died in 1948.
The Wright brothers’ famous airplane, the “Wright Flyer,” is on permanent display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., USA.