Who Were Wilbur and Orville?
1899 1900 1901 1902 1903 1904 1905
Construction and Fabric
Construction and Fabric
The Wrights used their proven canard biplane configuration, which was rooted in their initial 1899 kite design. Key to the Flyer’s success was its three-axis control system, which featured wing-warping for lateral balance, a moveable rudder, and an elevator for pitch control.
Interior of 1903 Wright Flyer Wing
This 1985 refurbishment of the Wright Flyer illustrates the double layer of fabric used in 1903.
The right wing was four inches longer than the left to compensate for the engine being heavier than and mounted to the right of the pilot. The wings were rigged with a slight droop to reduce the effects of crosswinds.
Wingspan: 12.3 m (40 ft 4 in)
Wing Area: 47.4 sq m (510 sq ft)
Length: 6.4 m (21 ft 1 in)
Height: 2.8 m (9 ft 4 in)
Weight: 341 kg (750 lb), with pilot
Engine: Horizontal 4-cylinder, water-cooled, 12 horsepower
Artifact Gallery WB:242-L4-S4
The Wrights used this French-made, hand-held anemometer to measure wind speeds
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“After a while they shook hands, and we couldn’t help notice how they held on to each other’s hand, sort o’like they hated to let go; like two folks parting who weren’t sure they’d ever see each other again.”
John T. Daniels, Kitty Hawk lifesaving crewman,
recalling the moments before the first flight
1903 Wright Flyer Wing Panel

This wing panel is the largest surviving piece of original fabric from the 1903 Wright Flyer. It was on the airplane during its historic flights of December 17, 1903. The Flyer was completely re-covered in 1927 under Orville Wright’s supervision, and again in 1985 by the National Air and Space Museum.
This fabric is the same “Pride of the West” unbleached muslin used on the 1901 and 1902 gliders. It was left unsealed to save weight.
Wing rib construction
Unlike the solid, steam-bent wing ribs of the earlier gliders, the ribs of the 1903 Flyer were built up from two thin strips of ash with small blocks in between. The curvature of the airfoil was 1 in 20, slightly greater than on the 1902 glider.
Double layer fabric covering
The Wrights further refined the wings by covering the bottom surfaces with fabric. This resulted in a smoother overall wing surface, which enhanced its aerodynamic efficiency. The wooden structure once again “floated” inside fabric pockets, now sewn to the inside of the lower fabric layer. The brothers continued to apply the fabric on the bias (the direction of the weave at a 45-degree angle) to increase the stiffness of the wings.
Wing struts
The Wrights cleverly supported the middle of the wing struts with a fine wire, secured on both sides so the struts would not flex under flight loads. To achieve the same strength without the wire would have required thicker, heavier struts.
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