On Monday, December 14, 1903, Wilbur Wright made an unsuccessful attempt to fly the power-driven, heavier-than-air machine that he and his brother Orville had developed. After 3.5 seconds in the air, the engine stalled, but luckily Wilbur and the machine returned to the ground unharmed.

The next day in Dayton, Ohio, Bishop Milton Wright received the following telegram from his son Wilbur in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina:

Misjudgment at start reduced flight (to) one hundred (and) twelve (feet)–power and control ample–rudder only injured–success assured     keep quiet.

The brothers tried again on Thursday, December 17. The first attempt on that day, with Orville at the controls, was successful as the world’s first powered, controlled, sustained flight in a heavier-than-air machine. It occurred at 10:35 a.m. The plane flew for 12 seconds, covering a distance of 120 feet (a speed of approximately 7-8 mph).

First Flight, 17 Dec. 1903

First Flight, 17 Dec. 1903 (MS-1, Photo #16-2-8)

The brothers made three more successful flights that day. Following the last and longest flight—852 feet and lasting nearly full 1 minute—a gust of wind damaged the plane, and they were unable to fly it again.

Around 5:30 p.m. that same day, Milton Wright received a telegram from his son Orville, sharing the good news of the successful flights:

Success four flights Thursday morning all against a twenty-one mile wind started from level with engine power alone average speed through the air thirty one miles–longest 57 seconds. XXX home Christmas. Orville Wright.

As promised, Wilbur and Orville returned to their family in Dayton in time for Christmas, arriving on the evening of December 23.


To learn more about the first flight or the Wright Brothers, please visit our web site page about our Wright Brothers Collection (MS-1), or read more of our blog posts about the first flight. You can find additional pictures of the first flight and over 2,000 more pictures from the Wright Brothers Collection in CORE, our campus online repository.

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