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Wright Flyer. 1/16 scale by Hasegawa
Museum model. Designed to be displayed with or without fabric covering.
Multi media kit with metal, plastic, rubber and wood parts.


One of the world's most famous photographs. Orville lifts off as Wilbur runs along side.
In 1853 Sir George Cayley persuaded his reluctant coachman to climb into a glider of Cayley's design and then launched him down a hill, and for the first time in history, a heavier than air machine lifted into the air and flew briefly, before coming down with a thud. The terrified coachman immediately resigned from his job saying that he had been "hired to drive, not fly". Then, the man who's name was never recorded, the world's first pilot and consequently one of history's most famous individuals, vanished into the ether. Despite this fight, and many other attempts to fly after that day, the first controlled powered flight was still 50 years away.

For centuries man had dreamed of flying and some of the greatest minds of all time had worked on solving the mysteries of flight. Leonard da Vinci, one of the greatest artists and engineers of all time; Sir George Cayley, who was among the first of the inventors of the internal-combustion engine; Sir Hiram Maxim, inventor of the Maxim rapid fire gun; Parsons, the inventor of the turbine steam engine; Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone; Horatio Phillips, a well-known English engineer; Otto Lilienthal, the father of gliding, the inventor of the curved flying surface, the inventor of the instruments used in navigation and a well-known engineer; Thomas Edison, inventor of the incandescent light bulb, the fluorescent electric lamp, the nickel-iron-alkaline storage battery, the motion picture camera and the phonograph; Dr Samuel Langley, secretary and head of the Smithsonian Institution; Clement Ader; Alphonso Penaud, inventor of the helicopter; Octave Chanute and Mouillard had all tried and failed. But in one of history's more mischievous twists, it was two brothers, bicycle manufacturers from Dayton Ohio, who unraveled the mysteries of flight.


Wilbur once said that "From the time we were little children, Orville and I lived together, played together, worked together, and ..... thought together." After dinner nearly every night, the dedicated bachelors would sit in the little front parlor at their home in Dayton and argue - sometimes to the alarm of the housekeeper. Orville reminisced in later years, that "After long arguments we often found ourselves in the ludicrous position of each having been converted to the other's side, with no more agreement than when the discussion began."

Wilbur Wright, born in 1867 and his brother Orville, born 4 years later, were endowed with the truly unique combination of two of the greatest scientific minds of all-time and bravery by the bucket full. The brothers never attended collage, nor did they formally graduate from high school, preferring to study subjects outside the prescribed courses. In 1892 they opened the Wright Cycle Co, a bicycle manufacturing and sales business. They would be partners in business for the next 20 years and although they always maintained a joint bank account, neither paid the slightest attention to what the other drew for his own use.

But their real interest lay with the mysteries of flight. Their first experience with flying-machines came from playing with the toy 'Penaud' helicopters and as teenagers they became experts at the design and flying of kites. They turned their attention to gliders after hearing of the tragic death in a glider crash, of the great Otto Lilienthal in 1896. Between 1896 and 1899, they studied everything they could get their hands on pertaining to flight, including ornithology and the flying experiments of their predecessors. Up until that time all successful glider designs used the movement of the pilots body to control the craft. The brothers realized that as an aircraft increased in size, another method of control would have to be devised. Wilbur had noticed that birds moved feathers on their wing tips to maintain lateral balance. Ailerons. But Wilbur's solution was the predecessor to ailerons. It was called 'Wing-warping'.

In 1900 they travelled to and pitched camp at Kitty Hawk, Dare County, North Carolina, to test their first full size glider. The glider was flown as a kite with a man on board. The brothers returned in the summer of 1901 and this time pitched camp at Kill Devil Hills, 4 miles south of Kitty Hawk and, with their modified glider, tested it first as a kite and then as a glider. Within a few minutes of the commencement of the gliding tests they were able to make glides of over 300 feet. But the glider was dangerously unstable and after crashing twice, the last crash injuring Wilbur, they left Kitty Hawk considering their experiments a failure. It had become apparent that the aerodynamic calculations of their predecessors that they had relied upon, were unreliable at best and that to succeed, they would have to cast them aside and establish their own aerodynamic data. But how do you do this scientifically? You invent and build the world's first aeronautical wind tunnel. And they did.

They were back at Kill Devil Hills in September 1902 with a new glider, the design of the wings based on the wind tunnel data. They had also added two tail fins that they hoped would control the machine in a banked turn. By October nearly 1000 gliding flights had been made, several of which covered distances of over 600 feet. In fact they were attaining a better glide ratio than the birds. More modifications were made over winter including replacing the fixed tail fins with movable fins (rudders). They were back at the camp in the spring of 1903. The tests continued with flights of over a minute often soaring for a considerable time in one spot. They now had a glider that was balanced in all wind conditions. Now for the momentous step. It was time to fit an engine and propellers.

But what engine? All existing engines were too heavy for the required power output. Solution? Design and build your own, lighter, more efficient engine!!! And they did.

And propellers? Nothing at the time worked efficiently enough to propel an aircraft. Again the brothers would have to design the world's first practical air propeller. Their first propeller design gave a work factor of 66% of the power expended, about 35% more than the best previous propeller design.

Wilbur and Orville Wright


The brothers "......shook hands, and we couldn't help but notice how they held on to each others hand ... like two folks parting who weren't sure they'd ever see each other again".

On the 17th of December 1903, on a gusty winter day the brothers stood beside the flyer as the motor warmed up. From the start of their flying experiments, the brothers had agreed to alternate at the dangerous job of test pilot and now it was Orville's turn. One of the witness' later recounted that the brothers "......shook hands, and we couldn't help but notice how they held on to each others hand ... like two folks parting who weren't sure they'd ever see each other again".

At 10.35am, Orville began to slide along the ramp into the teeth of gusting, 27 mph winds. After 40 feet, the plane suddenly rose and flew on, Wilbur running at its side. For 12 incredible seconds it soared, finally falling to the sand again some 120 feet away. A ragged cheer went up from the small crowd watching. Orville had flown the little motor-driven biplane off the sand near Kill Devil Hills and into the pages of history.

Although the first flight lasted only 12 seconds and covered barely 120 feet, it was the first time a machine carrying a man and driven by a motor had lifted itself from level ground in controlled free flight and moved forward under its own power and landed at a point at least as high as that from where it had taken off. More splendor was yet to come. The Wrights flew four times that day, with Wilbur recording the longest with his final attempt of 852 feet in 59 seconds.

What the Wrights had accomplished was staggering. Man’s quest for the clouds had begun and the world would never be the same again.

In 1912, at the height of their fame, Wilbur, aged 45, died tragically of typhoid fever. Orville lived on to see the jet age, dying in 1948 aged 77.

Wright Flyer 1:16 by Hasegawa.

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Jon Crooke

30 January 2005