Best Known For
Orville Wright is best known for inventing the airplane with his brother, Wilbur.
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When famous German aviator Otto Lilienthal, whose research they had studied, died in a glider crash, the Wright brothers became convinced that, with better designs, human flight was possible. The brothers took their work to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina,
where heavy winds were more conducive to flying.
Orville and Wilbur began experimenting with wings. They observed that birds angled their wings to balance and control their bodies during flight. Utilizing their concept of "wing warping" and the moveable rudder, the brothers developed a design that had eluded all who came before them. On December 17, 1903, the Wright brothers succeeded in flying the first free, controlled flight of a power-driven airplane. Of four flights they made that day, the longest was 59 seconds, and reached a height of 852 feet. Today, the Wright brothers are considered the "fathers of modern aviation."
News of the Wrights' feat was met with early skepticism. After funding a number of failed flying experiments, the United States government was reluctant to back their work. When Wilbur set sail for Europe, Orville headed to Washington, D.C. to demonstrate their flying machine in hopes of winning government and army contracts. In July 1909, Orville completed the demonstration flights for the U.S. Army, which had demanded that a passenger seat be built in the plane. The Wright brothers sold the plane for $30,000.
The Wright brothers' extraordinary success led to contracts in both Europe and the United States, and they soon became wealthy businessowners. They began building a grand family home in Dayton, where they had spent much of their childhood.
On May 25, 1910, Orville flew for six minutes with Wilbur as his passenger—marking the first and only flight the brothers would make together. That same day, Orville took his 82-year-old father out for the first and only flight of his life.
In 1912, Wilbur died of typhoid fever. Without his brother and business partner, Orville was forced to take on the presidency of the Wright company. Unlike his brother, though, he cared little for the business side of their work, and, thusly, sold the company in 1915.
Orville Wright spent the last three decades of his life serving on boards and committees related to aeronautics, including the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, predecessor to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. He cut off communication with his sister, Katherine, when she married in 1926. Neither Orville nor Wilbur ever married, and he was greatly upset by his sister's choice. In 1929, he had to be persuaded to visit Katherine at her deathbed.
On January 30, 1948, Orville died after suffering a second heart attack. He is buried at the Wright family plot in Dayton, Ohio.
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Born four years apart, brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright grew up in a small town in Ohio. They shared an intellectual curiosity and an aptitude for science, at a time when the possibility of human flight was beginning to look like a reality. Together, the Wright brothers developed the first successful airplane in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina—and together they became national heroes. Considered the fathers of modern aviation, they developed innovative technology and inspired imaginations around the world.
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