"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 usher in the aerial age.

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Location in Museum National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC
Gallery 103
Gallery 103 Map
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Related Topics: Aviation Aircraft Early flight Records and Firsts World War I Take a Look Inside the Gallery

A view inside the gallery.

A section of the exhibit that looks at the public enthusiasm for aviation.

Preview the exhibit with a teaser video... ...or take a step inside! Take A Virtual Tour of the 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 See more objects in this exhibit See more objects in this exhibit
Dive Deeper into Early Flight
Power and Control in the Air The Airplane in Early 20th Century Culture The Wright Brothers
The Military Gets Its Wings The Roar of the Crowd The Fastest Man on Earth First American Women in Flight Early Mexican Aviators at the Moisant Aviation School 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 and Catherine M. Barry

Diane Steed

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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.

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