Wright Kites and Gliders

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1899 Experimental Kite – In the early summer of 1899, Wilbur Wright discovered that if he drew together the opposing corners of a long, narrow box, the box would twist. . He thought he might use this method to control a biplane, twisting the wings to turn one wingtip up and the other down simultaneously and causing the biplane to roll. He built this experimental kite or "model glider" to test that idea. It worked.
 
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The 1899 Wright kite was controlled from the ground with four strings attached to two sticks. By angling the sticks, the operator could roll the kite.
 

 
1900 Glider – A year later, Wilbur was ready to try his idea on a man-carrying flying machine. He and his brother Orville built a small biplane glider and took it to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina to test it. (They chose Kitty Hawk because it had consistently strong winds that they needed to launch the glider.) The control system seemed to work, but the glider did not produce enough lift to carry a man aloft. They decided to try a larger glider.
 

The 1900 glider, flown as a kite. The Wright kites all their gliders to measure lift and drag.

At one point, a gust of wind snatched the 1900 glider and nearly dashed it to pieces. But the brothers repaired it and were soon flying it again.
 
1901 Glider – This  Wrights returned to Kitty Hawk with a glider that offered almost twice as much wing area as their first. Unfortunately, it still did not generate as much lift as they expected. Additionally, the controls did not work as well on this glider as they had on the first. This convinced the Wrights that they need to do basic research in aerodynamics, testing different wing shapes in a homemade wind tunnel.
 

Orville standing beside the 1901 Wright Glider. At the time, it was the largest gliding machine anyone had ever flown.
 

Orville and Dan Tate launch Wilbur aboard the 1901 Wright Glider.
1902 Glider – The Wrights identified an efficient wing shape in their wind tunnel, then built an aircraft around it. Their third glider not only produced the expected lift, it was also responsive to its controls. Initially, the glider used wing warping to control roll  and a forward elevator for pitch. After a few modifications, it also used a trailing rudder for yaw. This allowed the Wrights, for the first time, to navigate the air in all three dimensions.
 

The 1902 glider was the first of the Wright's aircraft to have a tail. Initially, the tail had two fixed surfaces.
 

After a series of test flights, the Wrights decided to convert the tail into a movable rudder with a single surface.
1911 Experimental Glider – Although the Wrights finished their glider experiments in 1902 to pursue powered aviation, they remained fascinated with gliding. In 1911, Orville returned to Kitty Hawk with a new glider designed to test some of the ideas he and Will had been kicking around for almost a decade. With this machine, he set the world's first soaring record.
 

The Wrights the the press that the 1911 glider would be used to test an "automatic stabilizer" – a primitive autopilot – but that didn't happen.
 

Orville Wright consulting with Alex Olgilvie, a visitor from England, in the cockpit of the 1911 glider.
 
For yet another Wright glider see the 1909 Wright Glider in Aviation's Attic. It wasn't built by the Wright brothers, but it was based on their designs.

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