The morning of Dec. 17, 1903, in Kill Devil Hills, N.C., Orville Wright piloted the first flight.

It lasted only 12 seconds and made it as far as 120 feet. On the fourth and final flight of the day, Wilbur Wright would travel 852 feet and be in the air for 59 seconds. The brothers became the first people to demonstrate sustained flight of a machine, (heavier than air) and in control of a pilot. Their flight patterns were straight without any turns. Landings were bumpy as there were no wheels.

In Dec. 1907, the U.S. Aeronautical division within the Signal Corps began accepting bids for a heavier-than-air flying machine. The Wright brothers claimed they would build a flying machine for $25,000 in 200 days and could fly at 40 mph with two men on board. The military officially accepted their bid in Feb. 1908. 

In March of the same year, the Wrights signed a contract with wealthy Frenchman Lazare Weiller. The contract formed a syndicate controlling the right to build, sell, or license the Wright plane in France. 

With two contracts to fulfill, and the competition ramping up, the brothers decided to separate to fulfill their contracts. Orville took on the Army Signal Corps contract building the 1908 Flyer. Wilbur headed to Europe and assembled the 1907 Flyer.

Both went on to have much success in their endeavors and laid the foundation for future air and space technology.

The Wrights never claimed to have invented the airplane, or even the first airplane to fly. They only claimed -to have made the first sustained, powered, controlled flights.  Wilbur and Orville’s most important contribution to aviation was an effective control system for an aircraft, and the skills needed to navigate it. Without control, the airplane would never have been a safe or practical means of transportation.

For more Wright brothers history visit: 

1901 to 1910 | The Wilbur and Orville Wright Timeline, 1846 to 1948 | Articles and Essays | Wilbur and Orville Wright Papers at the Library of Congress | Digital Collections