First Flight

On December 17, 1903, Wilbur Wright was the pilot during the first successful airplane flight in history. The plane that he and his brother Orville had built flew 120 feet in 12 seconds. It landed on the ground at the same height as it took off from, proving it had been a powered flight and not just a glide down a hill somewhere.

Have you ever traveled by air? In just hours a plane can take you what would take days to drive, or months to walk. The Wright brothers' success was to change the way we live. In a way, it made the world a smaller place.

Why not explore some of the ideas behind flight?

Did you know that in 1899 the Wright brothers started their experiments by building a kite? They needed to learn about how the wind interacts with surfaces and shapes. Why not build a kite yourself and try changing it to see what happens? Visit the ESP page on kites and paper airplanes for some ideas.

Next, they began building gliders. One big problem they had was learning how to control the flight of their gliders. Aeronautics, An Educator's Guide has plans and lessons for building Styrofoam gliders to discover some of what they learned. Have a contest with friends to see who can make a glider stay in the air the longest, or who can get their glider to land closest to a spot marked on the floor.

Try building powered airplanes. Rubber band-powered airplanes help you learn about wing shape, center of gravity, propeller design and thrust. Visit a hobby store to find out about rubber band-powered model airplane kits.

Build a model of the Wright brothers' plane. Visit Modeling the Wright Brothers Glider to see how one class of sixth graders did it.

To read about the Wright brothers and their accomplishments, visit websites like the U.S. Centennial of Flight homepage, and the Wright Brothers National Memorial. These men were not simple bicycle mechanics, but self-taught engineers who designed and built their own wind tunnel to test wing shapes. They learned science just like you do, by testing their own ideas through hands-on experiments! I wonder what you will invent someday.
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