As the holiday season starts, a lot of us are getting ready to board airplanes to go visit family and friends across the country. While we take airplanes for granted today, imagine what life would be like if the Wright brothers hadn't dreamed of building the first passenger plane.
Wilbur and Orville Wright's interest in flying began at a fairly young age, when their father presented them with a toy helicopter that flew. The fascination continued as they grew older and in 1899 they built their first model - a cloth-covered kite, that they could steer from the ground.
Once they mastered the steering, Wilbur and Orville started working on a prototype that could hold a person. Dubbed, Glider No. 1 it's wire supported wooden frame was covered with fine satin fabric. A horizontal rudder was attached to navigate upward or downward motion.
To test the 'plane', Wilbur and Orville took it to the village of Kitty Hawk on the shores of North Carolina. After testing and tweaking it for four months, Glider no.1 made history, by taking flight - for exactly 20 seconds, covering less than 400ft!
The second prototype, called Glider No.2 had legs like skis for takeoffs and a longer, 22-foot wingspan. It also had a harness to help secure the pilot to the wings. While Glider No. 2 performed slightly better in terms of distance, the brothers had a hard time controlling it, and they returned to the drawing board.
Glider No.3 was build with a 33-ft wingspan and a vertical tail to add stability. However, the biggest change was in the wing controls, which allowed the pilot to adjust the Gliders' balance quickly and safely. It rose 30ft above the ground and travelled more than 500 ft along the ground.
Satisfied that they had solved the control and steering problems, the Wright brothers now started to look for a way to fly without the aid of wind. After testing various shapes and sizes of propellers, they settled on an 8ft long model. To power it, they built a twelve horsepower tank that would contain a new fuel called gasoline.
In 1903, with everything in place, Wilbur and Orville prepared to test their new aircraft, The Wright Flyer. The first flight lasted just 12 seconds, rose just ten feet above the ground and crossed only 120 feet. However, history had been made. This was the first "passenger" flight, powered by gas, with full steering control.
Within ten months, the brothers had figured out the problems and started taking flights that spanned twenty-four miles in forty minutes, and the rest as they say is history.
Sources: Wikipedia, Firsttofly.com