The 1903 Wright Flyer is one of the most iconic artifacts in the Smithsonian. It represents a moment of great triumph as Orville and Wilbur Wright achieved the first successful flights of a powered, controlled, heavier-than-air flying machine in December 1903. The first powered airplane, the Wrights’ 1903 Flyer inaugurated the aerial age with a 12-second flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.
Our website has a number of resources to dive deeper into this iconic artifact and seminal moment in aviation history.
Explore the Wright Flyer in 3D
This 3D virtual model of the Wright Flyer, presented by the Smithsonian Digitization Program Office (DPO), allows users to explore the fine details of the artifact, providing a window into the Wright’s inventive genius and understanding of the principles of flight. Explore on the DPO website.
The Wright Brothers & the Invention of the Aerial Age
The gallery where the Wright Flyer is displayed at the Museum in DC has an online exhibition chock full of interesting insights into the Wright brothers, their careers paths, their influence on aeronautical engineering, and their aircraft. I recommend exploring the Wrights’ start as bicycle makers, the Wright gliders that came before their first successful powered airplane, and the decades-long Wright-Smithsonian Feud that delayed the Flyer’s display in the Smithsonian.
Photographs of the Wright Flyer
The 1903 Wright Flyer’s collection record on our website includes over 25 photos of the aircraft, including shots of it installed in its gallery at the Museum in DC and close-ups of various parts of the history-making aircraft.
The Real Wright Flyer
One fairly common question we get here at Air and Space is “Is this the real Wright Flyer?” The answer, of course, is yes! In this blog by curator Peter Jakab, we explore what causes people to ask that question and the story of why and how the fabric was replaced on the Flyer in the 1980s.
From Kitty Hawk to the Sea of Tranquility
In 1969, pieces of the first powered airplane traveled to the Moon on the first crewed mission to land on the lunar surface. The Wright Flyer pieces taken on the Apollo 11 mission were wood from the left propeller and fabric from the upper left wing. They were inside lunar module Eagle when it landed on the Moon on July 20, 1969. These special artifacts serve as a powerful reminder that only 66 years separated the Wrights’ first flights at Kitty Hawk from Neil Armstrong’s first steps in the Sea of Tranquility.
STEM in 30
STEM in 30, our educational webcast series for middle school students, has produced a number of episodes about the Wright Flyer. In this episode, we talk to Museum curator Peter Jakab and Wright relative Keith Yoerg about how the Wright brothers got their aircraft off the ground.
Engineering the Wright Way
In this online interactive, learn about the forces of flight and try your hand at building and flying the Wright Flyer. Get started.
What’s Next for the Wright Flyer?
The Wright Brothers & the Invention of the Aerial Age is getting an upgrade as part of the transformation of the National Air and Space Museum in DC. The reimagined gallery will feature an up-close experience with the 1903 Wright Flyer. Also included will be artifacts from the brothers’ youth and their aeronautical experiments to help visitors better understand what enabled Wilbur and Orville to achieve one of the transformational accomplishments in history. The gallery also covers how the world received and embraced the new experience of human flight in the decade after Kitty Hawk through art, film, photography, music, and other cultural artifacts. The preservation and display of the 1903 Wright Flyer, and the inspiring story of its world-changing impact, is supported by a gift from David M. Rubenstein.