orville and wilbur wright

Flight of the Wright Brothers, 1903

Photograph of John T. Daniels

A camera was present at Kitty Hawk during the historic day of 1903, when Orville and Wilbur Wright Flyer first arrived in heaven. Who took the photo was John T. Daniels, who had come from the Coast Guard station to observe the efforts of the Wright brothers, whom John called “a couple of crazy”. The first flight rose to 37 meters and lasted 12 seconds.

The Anniversary of First Flight!!!

On December 17, 1903, brother Orville and Wilbur Wright flew the first motor powered aircraft in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.  Although the popular mythology has the two bicycle mechanics laboring in obscurity in their bike shop in Ohio, they were racing to achieve the inevitable as teams around the world worked to become the first to achieve flight.  The Wright Flyer was based on a glider from France, the Wrights realizing critically that a vertical rudder was a necessary component.  Of the final flight, Orville said:

Wilbur started the fourth and last flight at just about 12 o'clock. The first few hundred feet were up and down, as before, but by the time three hundred ft had been covered, the machine was under much better control. The course for the next four or five hundred feet had but little undulation. However, when out about eight hundred feet the machine began pitching again, and, in one of its darts downward, struck the ground. The distance over the ground was measured to be 852 feet; the time of the flight was 59 seconds. The frame supporting the front rudder was badly broken, but the main part of the machine was not injured at all. We estimated that the machine could be put in condition for flight again in about a day or two.

With that understated report, the dawn of air travel began.  The Wrights, however, did not call that first machine an airplane.  The French had been using aeroplane since 1866, coined using the Ancient Greek aero- meaning air and the French word planer meaning to soar.  Lord Byron had used ‘air vessel’ as early as 1822 to denote a heavier than air craft, but it took a couple of years in English before airplane was common, generally acknowledged between 1905 and 1907.  The trouble with dating it is that no sooner had the airplane’s rudders touched the sand than misinformation began, followed shortly thereafter by lawsuits and patent claims.  A newspaper article in the New York Herald published in Paris, France summed up the skepticism:  

The Wrights have flown or they have not flown. They possess a machine or they do not possess one. They are in fact either fliers or liars. It is difficult to fly. It’s easy to say, ‘We have flown.’

Five people witnessed the first flight, which covered 852 feet in 59 seconds: Adam Etheridge, John T. Daniels and Will Dough, all of the U.S. government coastal lifesaving crew, businessman W.C. Brinkley; and Johnny Moore, a young boy who lived nearby.  John Daniels took the historic photograph, and history was made.


When he was quite young, Melville Murrell was fascinated by the thought of flight; so much so that he even tried to take off by jumping from a wall as he flapped cabbage leaves like they were wings.   His desire to fly didn’t fade with age. 

On August 14, 1877, Murrell was awarded US Patent number 194104 for his invention called “The American Flying Machine”.   This was the first heavier than air aircraft patented in the United States.   Several successful flights were performed in the process of receiving the patent.

Contrary to what you were taught in school, Orville and Wilbur Wright did not conduct the first flight of a heavier than air (not a balloon) aircraft at Kitty Hawk North Carolina in 1908.     The first such flight was actually made in Melville Murrell’s invention in 1877, in Morristown, Tennessee.   That’s 31 years before the flight of the Wright brothers. 

Above, you’ll see the remains of the house on the Murrell property near Morristown, Tennessee.   A long-time local resident tells us that the house was so notorious for being haunted that people in the area finally burned it down.   The house is situated in the middle of a large field where the historic first flights were conducted. 

The Rose Center in downtown Morristown has a museum in it where the actual wings of Murrell’s machine are on display, along with a scale model of the aircraft and some information about the flights.     The display was set up after the parts were returned from their prior location at the Smithsonian Institution.

Interestingly, as destiny would have it, the Murrell property is only about one mile from the runway at the Morristown Regional Airport, also known as the Moore Murrell Airport.    Aircraft taking off or landing can easily see the field where man’s first real flights actually took place.

The Wright brothers’ first flight took place 112 years ago today. Celebrate with this Alfred Stieglitz photo of another aircraft from the early days of aviation. . 

[Alfred Stieglitz. The Aeroplane. 1910. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. © 2015 Estate of Alfred Stieglitz / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York]

The first successful, controlled, powered and sustained heavier-than-air human flight of the Wright Flyer I, was on December 17, 1903. The machine traveled 120 ft (36.6 m) in 12 seconds at 10:35 a.m.at Kill Devil Hills, NC. Orville at the controls of the machine, lay prone on the lower wing, hips in the cradle which operated the wing-warping mechanism. Wilbur ran alongside to balance the machine. It’s a wide open space and very windy. (wikipedia)