1902 Wright brothers glider

Did you know in February 1903, the Wright brothers were working on adding power to unpowered flight.

At the start of February in 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright, along with their master-fabricator-mechanic Charlie Taylor, started testing the four-cylinder engine that would eventually power their first heavier-than-air flying-machine.

1903 Wright Brothers Charlie Taylor motorThe engine progress that week was based on their thorough scientific observation and testing—and past frustration in 1901. The unsuccessful results with the 1901 Glider in late summer at Kill Devil Hill in North Carolina led to the famous remark (attributed to both of the brothers over time), “Not within a thousand years would man ever fly.

The brothers, relied on scientific testing and methodologies, and worked hard to prove themselves wrong. In October 1901, they started tests of miniature airfoils with their wind tunnel, keeping tables of information they would use to design a wing with improved lift. That design was the 1902 Glider. The chief difference in the 1902 Glider from the previous models was the aspect ratio—the ratio between the length of the wing (the span) and the width of the wing (the distance from the front of the wing to the back, the chord.)

The wings of the 1902 Glider measured 32 by 5 feet—an aspect ratio of 6.4. The 1901 Glider had a 3.1 aspect ratio. Wings with a larger aspect ratio generate lift with less drag for greater flight efficiency.

The estimated 700—1000 successful glides back at Kill Devil Hills in September of 1902 convinced Orville and Wilbur they had a design that would fly. So, the next logical step was to build the engine to power their next design.

Back in Dayton in December of 1902, Orville and Wilbur—and Charlie Taylor—began the design and construction of the engine they needed to power their plane into the sky. Just six weeks later, that first week in February 1903, the first airplane engine was ready for testing. (More about Charlie Taylor’s role here).

It was the intense scientific research, design, fabrication, and testing of the shape and size of the wing that allowed the Wright brothers to progress to engine design and testing.

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