The Wright Brothers
Orville and Wilbur Wright were American brothers who were credited with the invention of the first successful airplane, as well as making the first controlled, powered, and sustained human flight in 1903.
Wilbur Wright was born April 16, 1867, while Orville was born August 19,1871; the brothers were two of seven children. In his travels, their father brought home a toy "helicopter" for the boys, based on an invention by a French engineer-the Wright brothers' experience with the toy led to their interest in flight.
While both brothers attended high school, neither received diplomas: Wilbur completed four years of high school, but never received a diploma due to a family move, while Orville dropped out after his junior year to start a printing business in 1889, where Wilbur later joined him. They would open a bicycle repair and sales shop in 1892, and manufactured their own bikes starting in 1896. Always in the back of their minds, however, was flying, and they used the bike enterprises to fund their research.
In 1899, the brothers drew on information from various aeronautics pioneers—Leonardo da Vinci, Sir George Cayley, and Otto Lilienthal, among others—and began their experiments. The Wrights focused on control as opposed to power, and their major breakthrough came in 1906, when the brothers received a US patent for their three-axis control system. This patent came after the Wright brothers built and flew three separate gliders from 1900 to 1902; the glider used in 1902 made more than 700 glides, the longest at 26 seconds and 622.5 feet. This glider is essentially seen as the invention of the airplane.
In 1903, the Wright brothers made their first controlled, sustained, and powered flight in the Wright Flyer 1, made primarily of spruce wood and muslin. The Flyer made three flights at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, but was damaged as plans were made for a fourth flight. The Flyer is now permanently based at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., since 1948.
The Wright brothers continued perfecting their craft, and in 1907 received contracts for the sale of airplanes from french investors and the US Army. In 1909, the Army purchased its first airplanes, and in 1910, the Wright brothers set up the first civilian flight training school.
Wilbur Wright died of typhoid in 1912; by 1915, Orville decided to sell the business and his patents to some New York investors. He went on to design an unmanned "aerial torpedo" with Charles Kettering in 1918, the precursor to the guided missile. He continued to design and invent, assisting in wind tunnel testing with Chrysler and assisting the US Navy in creating a code-breaking machine. Orville died of a heart attack in 1948.