"An uninterrupted navigable ocean that comes to the threshold of every man's door, ought not to be neglected as a source of human gratification and advantage."
—Sir George Cayley, English engineer, 1816

Between the first flights of the Wright brothers in 1903 and the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the airplane grew from an ancient dream into a reality that would shape the future.

Early Flight uses artifacts like the Lilienthal Glider, 1909 Wright Military Flyer, and the Blériot XI to explore how in one short decade people in America and around the world were pushing boundaries, setting records, participating in air shows, and turning the aircraft into a technology that would create an aerial age.


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Location in Museum National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC
Gallery 103
First floor gallery, north side, three right of center.
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Related Topics: Aviation Aircraft Early flight Records and Firsts World War I Take a Look Inside the Gallery

A rendering showing a sneak peak of what the new exhibit will look like.

A view inside the nearly finished exhibition.

Innovators in Early Flight Flight Before the Airplane
In this Exhibit Lilienthal Glider Object 1909 Wright Military Flyer Object Curtiss B-8, V-8 Engine Object Blériot XI Object Ecker Flying Boat Object Curtiss D-III Headless Pusher Object Search the Collection
Dive Deeper into Early Flight
Power and Control in the Air February 14, 2022 The Airplane in Early 20th Century Culture April 25, 2022 The Wright Brothers June 02, 2022
The Military Gets Its Wings September 09, 2022 The Roar of the Crowd September 09, 2022 First American Women in Flight November 01, 2021 Early Mexican Aviators at the Moisant Aviation School October 14, 2021 Take a Step Behind the Scenes The Conservation of the Wright Military Flyer

Follow along as our experts conserve the 1909 Wright Military Flyer, which will be on display in the Early Flight gallery.

Explore Photo Album

The Museum gratefully acknowledges those who have generously supported this gallery.

Glenn and Donna Boutilier

Richard W. McKinney

Diane Steed

You may also like The Wright Brothers & The Invention of the Aerial Age National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC Upcoming Exhibition Two Early Women Aviators You’ll Want to Know November 01, 2021 After Armistice: Continuing Archival Research on World War I November 07, 2018 Air Racing May 10, 2022 Museum Transformation Be the Spark

A major renovation is underway as we reimagine our galleries and presentation spaces in our iconic National Mall building in Washington, DC. Join us as we inspire a new generation of pioneers and explorers.

Learn About Our Transformation