A practical flying machine

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he Wrights began to rebuild their aircraft in May of 1905, salvaging the engine, propellers, and hardware. The new Flyer III was designed to overcome the problems they had encountered in 1904. Both the elevator and the rudder were larger, giving the airplane more "authority" in pitch and yaw control. The brothers had also encountered problems with "side slips" -- the airplane tended to slide sideways in the air during a turn -- so they installed semi-circular "blinkers" between the elevator surfaces to  keep the airplane flying forward. And they had noticed the propellers tended to twist and flatten while they were spinning, reducing thrust. The prevent this, they attached tabs they called "little jokers" to the trailing edges of the blades.

They were back into the air again in late June, but still the Flyer was not right. They made eight flights in the new Flyer 3, the longest less than 20 seconds, and every flight ending with damage to the aircraft. On July 14, Orville smashed into the ground at over 30 miles per hour, crumpling the front elevator. The Flyer III bounced three times, throwing Orville out through the top wing. Wilbur found him dazed and confused, lying on what was left of the elevator. Orville was still in one piece, but this potentially fatal crash forced the brothers to take a long, hard look at their aircraft design. There was something woefully wrong with the elevator.

Its position, the brothers concluded, was much to close to the wings to provide effective control. It needed to be placed further out to give it more leverage. They rebuilt the Flyer again, enlarging the elevator once more and moving it from 7-1/2 feet to nearly 12 feet out from the wings. They also extended the rudder and made new "bent-end" propellers. The bent ends served the same function as the little jokers -- they prevented the spinning propellers from flattening and losing thrust.

Orville and Wilbur began to fly again in late August, and it was immediately apparent that the new, improved Flyer 3 was truly airworthy. In less that a week, they were flying multiple circuits around the prairie, landing without a single serious accident. On September 26, Wilbur flew for over 18 minutes, running the gas tank dry for the first time. Orville broke the half-hour mark on October 3.

Word began to spread that something extraordinary was going on at Huffman Prairie and people began to come to watch. Far from discouraging spectators, the Wrights invited people they thought would make credible witnesses. They sent out about 30 invitations to see the flights on October 4, and eyewitnesses have estimated that several hundred showed up, including those aboard the Interurban trains the stopped to watch the spectacle.

On October 5 another small crowd of people -- including Torrence Huffman and Dave Beard -- gathered to watch Wilbur and Orville fly. The first flight in the morning was short, just 40 seconds -- the Flyer III rose gently into the air, made a 180-degree turn, and glided back to a safe landing.  But in the afternoon, Wilbur flew 30 circuits, remaining in the air for 39 minutes, covering over 24 miles, and landing only when he was out of gas. Not only had he made the longest flight in history, this one flight racked up more air time that all the flights of 1903 and 1904 put together.

The 1905 Wright Flyer III was the marvelous result of careful, painstaking   engineering. Built up in tiny increments, beginning with the Wright's kite experiments of 1899, it was the first flying machine capable of taking off and flying through the air under its own power; rising, descending, and turning in any direction under the control of a pilot; and landing -- without crashing -- in any suitable location.   In short, the Flyer 3 was the world's first practical airplane.

Once again, the newspapers began to take notice. Stories appeared in the Dayton Journal, the Dayton Daily News, the the Cincinnati Post. Knowing that premature exposure could place their patent rights -- and their financial future -- in jeopardy, the Wrights decided to halt their test flights until they had a secure patent and buyer for their aircraft. The triumphant 1905 flights would be the last they would make for nearly 3 years.

Eyewitness Report

  • Personal Recollections of the Wrights -- Just after the death of Wilbur Wright in 1912, William Werthner, who had helped the brothers from time to time at Huffman Prairie, remembered the day when six long years of work finally paid off.
Click on a photo or drawing to enlarge it.

1904 Flyer 2 3-View.jpg (89346 bytes)

1905 Flyer 3 3-view.jpg (99216 bytes)
To give the Flyer better control, the Wrights enlarged both the rudder and the elevator and extended them out from the wings, as you can see by comparing these drawings.

1905 Flyer over HP Sept 29 (3).jpg (78227 bytes)
The 1905 Wright Flyer 3 over Huffman Prairie on September 29, when it made 14 rounds of the field and ran the gasoline tank dry for the second time.

1905 Flyer 3 close-up.jpg (41517 bytes)
A close-up of the Flyer 3 in flight on October 4, when it flew for 34 minutes before a crowd of invited (and uninvited) guests. 

1905 Flyer over HP Oct 4 (6).jpg (37092 bytes)
Another view of the October 4, 1905 flight. The Wrights had just fit a new gas tank to the Flyer to enable it to fly for longer periods of time. The next day, they flew 24 miles in 39 minutes.

The restored 1905 Wright Flyer 3 rests in Carillon Park in Dayton, Ohio. If you'd like to take a virtual walk around the world's first practical flying machine, click HERE.

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The Wright Story/Inventing the Airplane/Flying the 1905 Wright Flyer III

Part of a biography of the Wright Brothers


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