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1907-1909 Wright Model A

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he Wight Model A was the world's first production airplane, and the Wrights produced variations of this aircraft from 1907 to 1909. It was very similar to its immediate prototype, the 1905 Wright Flyer III, but it was longer, slightly heavier, and had a more powerful engine. The most important difference, perhaps, was that it was designed to carry two people sitting upright in two seats on the leading edge of the wing.

It also had not one but two new control systems. When flying the Flyer III in 1908 with upright seating, the brothers had devised a new control system with three separate levers for wing warping, elevator, and rudder . Orville seemed to have no problem with them, but Will found them confusing. When he crashed the Flyer III on 14 May 1908, he blamed his inexperience with the controls. Later that year when Wilbur assembled a Model A the brothers had shipped to France, he replaced the controls with a system of his own devising.  Orville stuck with the original 3-lever system when building the Model A he demonstrated later that year at Fort Myer, but made some improvements when he built his next airplane. The end result was that Wright airplanes manufactured in Europe generally had a "Wilbur" control system, while those made in America had an "Orville." For a short time, you could order Wright airplanes with either Wilbur or Orville controls, your preference.

Both types of controls featured two levers -- one to actuate the elevator and the other to warp the wings and move the rudder. The warp/rudder lever was between the two seats; the elevator levers were to the right of the right seat and the left of the left seat. If a pilot switched seats, he also had to "switch hands."

Wilbur first flew the Model A on 8 Aug 1908 in France. A second Model A was sent to Italy, where Wilbur made demonstration flights in 1909.  He also flew a Model A at Governor's Island in New York in October of 1909 for the Hudson-Fulton Celebration. Orville flew a Model A at Fort Myer in September of 1908. On 17 September 1908, he crashed this airplane killing his passenger, Lt. Thomas Selfridge. In late 1909 and early 1910, the Model A design began to change as both Orville and Wilbur added fixed horizontal stabilizers to the tails of their airplanes. This rear stabilizer became a movable elevator and the outriggers that held the tail expanded to become a sturdy rectangular framework. Finally, the front elevator or canard disappeared altogether. By  the fall of 1910, the Model A design had been phased out in favor of the Model B.

Wright Model A specifications:

  • 41 ft (12.3 m) wingspan
  • 6.5 ft (198 cm) chord
  • 6 ft (183 cm) separation
  • 510 sq ft (46.7 sq. m) wing area
  • 1:20 camber
  • 70 sq ft (7.7 sq m) double horizontal front rudder
  • 23 sq ft (3.2 sq m) twin movable vertical rear rudders
  • 31 ft (8.5 m) overall length
  • 800 lb (362.9 kg) total weight (without pilot)
  • 4 cylinder engine, 31 hp at 1425 rpm
  • Two contra-rotating propellers, 8-1/2 ft (244 cm) long, turning at 445 rpm
  • 37 mph (60 kph) average speed


  • McFarland, 1953, p 1193-1195, plates 151, 165.
  •  McFarland, Marvin W. (ed) The papers of Wilbur and Orville Wright. McGraw-Hill Book Co., New York, 1953, p 1193-1195. Plate 151 shows Wilbur flying in France. Plate 165 shows crash that killed Selfridge.

 [Submitted by Joe W. McDaniel] 

A Wright Model A poised for take-off in Italy in 1909.

The Model A flown by Orville at Fort Myer in 1908 had the original three-lever control system. The lever on the pilot's outside right turned the rudder, the one to the inside right warped the wings, and the lever on the left controlled the elevator.

The "Orville' control system shown in this Model A at the Wright Flight School in Montgomery, Alabama also has three levers, but only two of them are used by any one pilot. Note that the middle lever had a smaller lever at the top. Moving the middle lever front-to-back warped the wings and twisting the smaller lever side-to-side turned the rudder. The outside levers controlled the elevator.

Wilbur readies a Model A for a flight in France in 1909.

A rear view of the Model A that Wilbur flew in Europe. Note that the propellers are not the standard "bent-end" design that typified Wright airplanes. For a short time, Wilbur used the props from the 1904 Wright Flyer II in France. Apparently, the props that were sent with the plane in 1907 were damaged and Orv sent these to Will for use until a new set could be made.

Wilbur flies the Model A around the Statue of Liberty.

A Wright Model A flown by Eugene LeFebvre at the Rheims Air Meet in 1909.

The Model A assembled and flown by Wilbur in France had just two levers. Moving the right-hand lever front-to-back warped the wings and side-to-side turned the rudder. The left-hand lever controlled the elevator.

Orville demonstrates how to warp the wings of a Model A at Huffman Prairie near Dayton, Ohio.

Wilbur flies a Model A in Italy in 1909. This photo was shot from a balloon and was the first photo ever taken of an aircraft from the air.

Wilbur readies his Model A to fly at the Hudson-Fulton Celebration in New York City in 1909. The canoe strapped between the landing skids was to serve as a pontoon should Wilbur have been forced down in the water.

Top, front, and side drawings of the Wright Model A.

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