December 17, 1903: “Success Four Flights…”

At 10:35 a.m. on December 17, 1903, the Wright Brothers achieved the impossible, the first powered flight. On the first attempt, Orville would fly a distance of 120 feet in 12 seconds. The brothers would go on to make 3 additional flights that day, including Wilbur’s 59 second flight covering 852 feet. At home in Dayton, their father, Milton Wright, recorded in his diary the telegram he received from Orville describing the day, “Bishop M. Wright: “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 mile–longest 57 seconds. XXX home Christmas. Orville Wright.”

First Flight photo (ms1_16_2_10)

First Flight photo, December 17, 1903 (ms1_16_2_10)

Three days before, on December 14, Wilbur and Orville had attempted the flight for the first time from the slopes of Big Kill Devil Hill. Wilbur, after winning a coin toss, was at the controls, for the unsuccessful try.

Wilbur Wright lying down in the Wright 1903 Flyer after the failed first attempt to fly on December 14, 1903 (ms1_16_2_3)

Later that day Wilbur wrote home to his father and sister to describe the attempt, “The power is ample, and but for a trifling error due to lack of experience with this machine and this method of starting the machine would undoubtedly have flown beautifully. There is now no question of final success” (December 14, 1903, page 3, Library of Congress). Two days later, Wilbur and Orville would have that success!

Page 2, Wilbur Wright, December 14, 1903, Library of Congress

Page 3, Wilbur Wright, December 14, 1903, Library of Congress










Additional images of the First Flight and the Wright Brothers in Kitty Hawk from October-December 1903 have been digitized and can be viewed on CORE Scholar.

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