Early Flight

Early Flight celebrates the first decade of flight by evoking the atmosphere of an aviation exhibition from that period: the fictitious Smithsonian Aeronautical Exposition of 1913. The gaily decorated gallery is crammed with fabric-covered aerial vehicles, some fanciful, most real, along with trade show–style exhibits featuring cutting-edge technology of the day.

Gracing the gallery is a rare 1894 Lilienthal glider, along with Samuel P. Langley's Aerodrome #5 and Quarter-Scale Aerodrome, powered, unmanned vehicles that successfully flew in 1896 and 1903. Early Flight also features the most original and complete of the Museum's three Wright airplanes, the 1909 Wright Military Flyer, the world's first military airplane. Other treasures include a Curtiss Model D "Headless Pusher," an Ecker Flying Boat, and a Blériot XI monoplane.


Lilienthal Glider

Lilienthal Hang-Glider
When Otto Lilienthal built his "Lilienthal Hang-Glider" in 1894, he considered it the safest and most successful of all his glider designs. In flight, the pilot hung between the wings by bars that passed beneath his arms. Lilienthal made glides of up to 1,150 feet (345 meters) in machines of this type. Despite Lilienthal's faith in the safety of his invention, he met his death following a crash in a hang-glider similar to the one on exhibit here.

His efforts were not in vain, however, for two young men named Orville and Wilbur Wright read about Lilienthal's experiments and were inspired to tackle the problem of heavier-than-air flight themselves. In 1899, they wrote to the Smithsonian Institution for information about experiments that had been conducted up to that time.

More information: Lilienthal Hang-Glider

Langley "Quarter-scale" Aerodrome

Langley Quarter-scale Aerodrome
Samuel P. Langley, third Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, constructed this Quarter-scale Aerodrome in 1901. It was one of seven such unmanned powered aircraft he built and flew at the turn of the century. Some had steam engines, others were gasoline powered. He used this model for balance studies when designing and constructing the full-scale, man-carrying Aerodrome A of 1903. The Quarter-scale Aerodrome flew twice on June 18, 1901, covering distances of 150 feet (45 meters) and 300 feet (90 meters). Its final flight was in August 8, 1903, when it traveled a distance of 1,000 feet (300 meters).

More information: Langley Quarter-scale Aerodrome

Wright 1909 Military Flyer

1909 Wright Military Flyer
The 1909 Wright Military Flyer was the world's first military airplane. In 1908, the U.S. Army Signal Corps ordered a two-seat observation aircraft-- one that was relatively simple to operate, could reach a speed of at least 40 miles (64 kilometers) per hour in still air, and could remain in the air for at least one hour without landing. The Army also required that the aircraft be easy to assemble and disassemble and be able to land safely and take off quickly. In the fall of 1909, Orville Wright successfully met the Signal Corps's specifications with this airplane, and the military gained its wings. The War Department presented this Wright Military Flyer to the Smithsonian Institution in 1911.

More information: 1909 Wright Military Flyer

Curtiss Model D "Headless Pusher"

Curtis Model D Headless Pusher
Lincoln Beachey, and other noted Curtiss Aircraft test and exhibition pilots, flew the Curtiss Model D Headless Pusher because it gave excellent performance, especially in the hands of experienced pilots. The Curtiss D and E aircraft were suited to exhibition flying not only because of their maneuverability, but also because of their easy disassembly and reassembly for shipment between exhibition dates. This 1912-style example was built by Glenn Curtiss after World War I for nostalgic reasons. The Model D, first manufactured in 1909, was dubbed the Headless Pusher because of its lack of a forward elevator surface. Earlier versions had both a rear and forward elevator.

More information: Curtis Model D Headless Pusher

Cutiss V-8 Motorcycle

Curtiss V-8 Motorcycle
Before achieving fame in aeronautics, Glenn Curtiss started his career with motorcycles and built a reputation for designing powerful, lightweight motorcycle engines. In 1906 he designed his first V-8 engine in response to several requests from early aeronautical experimenters. As a manufacturer and racer of motorcycles, Curtiss instructed his workers to construct a frame that could support the weight of the engine. This prototype, built exclusively for the air-cooled Curtiss V-8 engine, weighed 125 kg (275 lb) in total, and the engine produced approximately 30-40 horsepower at 1,800 rpm. In January 1907, Curtiss recorded a top speed of 218 kph (136 mph) at the Florida Speed Carnival at Ormond Beach, and was dubbed "the fastest man on Earth."

More information: Curtiss V-8 Motorcycle

Ecker Flying Boat

Ecker Flying Boat
Herman Ecker epitomized the pioneer spirit of the new aerial age with his Ecker Flying Boat. Inspired by the Wright brothers and Glenn Curtiss, Ecker learned to fly in 1911, built his own aeroplane, and made his living as an exhibition pilot. Ecker originally designed his aircraft with wheels so that it could take off from land. In 1912, he fitted the craft with pontoons, which allowed it to take off from, and alight on, water. Ecker constructed his Flying Boat largely from common materials found in local hardware stores.

More information: Ecker Flying Boat

Blériot XI

Blériot XI
Frenchman Louis Blériot's Blériot XI was the most popular pre-World War I monoplane. The example exhibited here is very similar to the aircraft he used on July 25, 1909, to make the first heavier-than-air flight across the English Channel. Taking off from the dunes near Calais and landing near Dover Castle, he made the 23-mile (37 kilometers) flight in 37 minutes at an average speed of 36 miles (58 kilometers) per hour. The single-seat Blériot XI was capable of remaining in the air for up to three hours and could climb to 1,640 feet (492 meters) in five minutes.

More information: Blériot XI