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18 Dec 2013
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On December 17, 1903, the Wright brothers from Dayton, Ohio, made the first controlled, powered and sustained heavier-than-air human flight which was over 110 years ago. The two brothers had no formal engineering training, yet they somehow defied gravity in their homemade flying machine over the sand dunes of the Outer Banks in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Orville and Wilbur Wright ushered in the era of flight and stamped their names into the the history books forever.

December 17th is considered "Wright Brothers Day," and to commemorate the two brothers who put the Outer Banks on the map, we'd like to share with you 10 things you may not know about the aviation pioneers. 


1. Orville was the first brother who was airborne because he won a coin toss.

The two brothers tossed a coin in the air to see who would first test the Wright Flyer on the sand dunes of the Outer Banks, and Orville ended up winning. Although older brother Orville won the toss, his first attempt on December 14, 1903, was unsuccessful and caused minor damage to the aircraft. Three days after the failed attempt, Orville, in a coat and tie, lay flat on his stomach on the plane's lower wing and took control of the plane. 

At exactly 10:35 a.m., the Wright Flyer moved down the guided trail with Wilbur running alongside to balance the fragile flying machine. The aircraft was airborne for 12 seconds and touched down 120 feet away in the soft sand. The Wright Brothers exchanged turns at the controls three more times that day, and each flight went further and further in distance. Wilbur's final flight that day lasted nearly a minute and covered a distance of 852 feet. 

2. A childhood toy began the brothers obsession with flying.

During the Wright Brothers childhood, their father returned home one evening with a gift that he tossed into the air. "Instead of falling on the floor, as we expected," the brothers recalled in a 1908 magazine article, "it flew across the room till it struck the ceiling, where it fluttered awhile, and finally sank to the floor." 

The Model helicopter made of cork, bamboo, and paper was powered by a rubber band and completely mesmerized the two young boys.

3. Neither brother received a high school diploma.

Wilbur finished all four years of high school, but the brothers family moved from Richmond, Indiana, to Dayton, Ohio, before he could receive his diploma. Orville dropped out of high school before his senior year to launch a printing business.

4. Once before, the Wright brothers printed a daily newspaper together.

Wilbur joined Orville's printing business and in 1889, the brothers began to publish a weekly newspaper, the West Side News. The following year, they published a short-lived daily newspaper, The Evening Item. 

Then in 1892, they ended their careers in the publishing business and opened the Wright Cycle Company, a successful bicycle repairand sales shop that financed their flying experiments.

5. Neither brother ever got married.

The two brothers were so busy with their work in aviation, they never found time to date. Wilbur told reporters that he didn't have time for both a wife and an airplane. 

6. The Wright brothers flew together just once.

Their father feared losing both sons in an airplane accident, so they promised to always fly in separate airplanes. However, the brothers made a singleexception on May 25, 1910, and their father allowed the brothers to share a six-minute flight near Dayton, Ohio with Orville piloting and Wilbur as thepassenger.

After safely landing, Orville took his 82-year-old father on his first and only flight. As Orville gained elevation, his father cried out, "Higher, Orville, higher!" 

7. The Wright Flyer never flew after December 17, 1903.

Before the two brothers flew the Wright Flyer for the fifth time on the day of the first flight, a strong gust of wind caught hold of the aircraft and flipped it multiple times.

The aircraft sustained heavy damage to its ribs, motor and chain guides that were beyond repair. The Wright Flyer was transported back to Dayton, Ohio andnever flew again.

8. Orville Wright was involved in the first fatal aviation accident.

After the brothers initial success in 1903, they continued to research and develop different flying machines. During a demonstration of the Wright Military Flyer to the U.S. Army onSeptember,17, 1908, Orville and Army Signal Corps Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge took to the air at Fort Myer, Virginia.

After a few minutes of being airborne, the propeller suddenly disintegrated and the aircraft spiraled out of control to the ground at full speed. Rescuers pulled an unconscious Selfridge from the wreckage and he died hours later. Orville was hospitalized for six weeks and suffered from a broken leg, four broken ribs and a back injury that impaired his mobility for the rest of his life.

9. Neil Armstrong carried a piece of the Wright Flyer with him to the moon.

Similar to the Wright Brothers, Neil Armstrong was also a aeronautical pioneer from Ohio and became the first man to step foot on the moon in 1969.

Inside Armstrong's pocket during the historic moon walk, he carried with him a piece of muslin fabric from the left wing of the original 1903 Wright Flyer along with a piece of wood from the airplane's left propeller. 

10. Orville refused to donate the Wright Flyer to the Smithsonian Institution for years.

He refused to donate the Wright Flyer to the national institution because in 1914, the Smithsonian concluded the Langley Aerodrome was the first machine "capable" of manned flight. Orville was furious at the museum's statement and decided to loan the Wright Flyer to the  London Science Museum in 1925.

After the Smithsonian admitted in the 1940s to misrepresenting the Langley Aerodrome, Orville agreed to donate the aircraft to the institution and it was first displayed at the institution in 1948 - a year after Orville passed.

This list is based on an article by Christopher Klein on the History Channel's website.