Wilbur Wright

Wilbur Wright (1867-1912), American aeronautical engineer who worked with his brother, Orville Wright, to build and fly the first airplane.

Wilbur, the elder of the two brothers, was born in Millville, Indiana. He was the third of five Wright children. Their father was a bishop of the United Brethren Church. Wilbur went to high school in Dayton, Ohio, with his brother Orville. The boys shared an interest in mechanical things and learned as much about mathematics and engineering as they could. Wilbur left high school before finishing his courses, and neither brother formally graduated. After leaving school, the brothers made several attempts at editing and printing small local newspapers. In 1892 they formed the Wright Cycle Company. For the next ten years they designed, built, and sold bicycles.

The Wright brothers must have been aware of the possibility of powered flight and some of the efforts being made toward that end. The work of German aeronautical pioneer Otto Lilienthal in the 1890s inspired the Wrights to pursue their own glider and airplane designs. Lilienthal died in a glider crash in 1896, convincing Wilbur that the stability of the design and the skill of the pilot were as important as getting an airplane into the air.

The Wright brothers concentrated on developing techniques to stabilize and provide directional control for their gliders from 1896 to 1899. In August 1899 they flew a kite with a wingspan of about 1.5 m (5 ft). The kite incorporated controls that could twist the ends of the wings. This wing-warping technique provided stability and directional control and was the forerunner of the idea of ailerons. Ailerons are flaps on the trailing edges of modern airplane wings that move independently of the wings to provide stability and steering controls. See Airplane: Control Components.

In 1900 the Wrights built a larger kite with a 5-m (17-ft) wingspan that could carry a pilot. They decided to begin their test flights near Kitty Hawk,.