Orville Wright

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Wright, Orville with Major John F. Curry, and Colonel Charles Lindbergh (LC).jpg
Orville Wright, Major John F. Curry, and Colonel Charles Lindbergh, who came to pay Orville a personal call at Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio. June 22, 1927

Aviator Orville Wright was born on August 19, 1871, in Dayton, Ohio. His parents were Bishop Milton Wright and Susan Catharine Wright. Orville Wright was the Wrights' fourth child. He attended the local public schools with his siblings but never graduated from high school or attended college.

Wright and his brother Wilbur were continually looking for new challenges. As young men, the two brothers went into business together. At one point, they opened a print shop. They also began making bicycles in their own bicycle shop, in part because of Orville's talents as a bicyclist. These bicycles were called Wright Flyers. The Wright brothers had an interest in flight that had been sparked by a toy shaped like a helicopter that their father had given them as children. As adults, the two men were interested in gliders like those built by Otto Lilienthal. Wilbur and his brother began experimenting with wing designs for an airplane. They envisioned a bi-plane that could be guided by warping the wings.

Orville and Wilbur Wright continued to experiment with their airplane designs, first with gliders and eventually with powered flight. Their first successful flight of a powered airplane occurred at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on December 17, 1903. That first plane was very primitive, but within a few years, the Wright brothers, as well as other aircraft designers, had begun to make many improvements. The first flight only lasted twelve seconds and traveled 120 feet, but a later flight that day lasted fifty-nine seconds and traveled 852 feet.

Many Americans, including journalists, did not believe the story of the Wright brothers' first flight. Only five Ohio newspapers covered the story originally, because the others refused to believe that flight was possible. That skepticism proved to be short-lived, and Americans became very interested in news stories about airplanes. In the short term, the Wrights found it difficult to obtain funding for their efforts. They attempted to sell their design to the United States military, but the government was still too skeptical about the possibilities of flight. By 1908 and 1909, Wilbur Wright was gaining international attention for the brothers' designs by setting aeronautical records in France. He also sought newspaper coverage by flying around the Statue of Liberty and then flying along the Hudson River. Throughout this time period, the Wright brothers were continuing to develop new advances in aeronautical design.

Wilbur Wright's promise was cut short when he contracted typhoid fever. He died on May 30, 1912. Orville continued to work on new developments in aircraft design after Wilbur's death. In 1916, he chose to sell the company that he and his brother had founded so that he could concentrate on aeronautical research and design rather than on manufacturing.

Orville Wright was one of the original members of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), which was founded in 1929. He served on NACA for a total of twenty-eight years. Today, NACA is known as the predecessor to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Wright received the first Daniel Guggenheim Medal for “great achievements in aeronautics” in April 1930. In the same month, he was also elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences. Although the world was originally skeptical of the Wright brothers' accomplishments, Orville Wright lived long enough to see that he and his brother were credited for the full influence of their accomplishments.

Orville Wright died in Dayton, Ohio, on January 30, 1948. He was seventy-six years old.

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