The 1899 Wright Kite

  Home    History Wing    Adventure Wing    Exhibits & Programs    Company Store    Information Desk


Adventure Wing  

   Virtual Hangar 


  The 1899    
Wright Kite
(You are here.)      

The 1900    
Wright Glider 

The 1901    
Wright Glider 

The 1901 Wright    
 Wind Tunnel 

The 1902    
Wright Glider 

The 1903    
Wright Flyer I 

The 1905    
Wright Flyer III 


Need to    

find your    


Try these    
navigation aids:    

 Site Map 

Museum Index 

the Museum

 If this is your first     
visit, please stop by:   

the Museum

Something to share?    

Contact Us 


Available in Française, Español, Português, Deutsch, Россию, 中文, 日本, and others.

he Wright "Kite" was the Wright brothers first aeronautical experiment. Actually, it wasn't a kite at all but a small glider designed to test a revolutionary new method of controlling an airplane. Early in the summer of 1899, Wilbur Wright had discovered that he could twist or "warp" the wings of a biplane by drawing the "corners" (where the struts joined the wings) together with cables. When the wings twisted, the angles of attack (the angles at which the wings meet the wind)  changed – one end of each wing would be angled up, producing more lift, while the opposite ends were angled down, producing less. This would cause the biplane to roll. This is what history remembers as the aileron principle, and it was the first step toward creating an effective aerodynamic control system for an airplane.

In all probability, Wilbur built several model gliders before he arrived at a design that performed as he later reported. It's likely that he used the Chanute-Herring Glider design as his jumping-off point, and the deep camber (1:12) of the wings would have made the tethered glider uncontrollable. Our own experiments show that the wings would have fluttered in the wind, snapping up and down like a Venetian blind gone mad. Wilbur must have learned through trial and error that the shallower the camber, the better the tethered glider behaves.

Because it was one in a series of models, it was no doubt a simple structure, just a frame with cloth stretched over it. He probably lashed the frame together with linen cord; this was the custom at the time for making light, temporary structures such as kites. Wilbur reported that he sealed the cloth with shellac to make it less permeable. Without the shellac, the air pressure on the bottom surfaces would have bled through the weave to the top, reducing the lift. The most unique feature of the model was the way the struts were joined to the wings. Because the wings had to be flexible, Wilbur could not use a rigid joint. The struts had to be hinged to the wings. At the time, it was common for craftsman to use two wires or cotter pins hooked together as small hinges. The performance of our replica shows this would have worked well for Will's model.

The Wright Kite is what kite flyers call a "quad" -- four control lines, attached to two sticks. Angle one stick forward and the other back to warp the wings.

The tail is also movable and functions as an elevator. Angle both sticks in the same direction to pitch the kite up or down. For the initial flights, however, you should tighten the bracing strings so the tail remains stationary.

All the parts of the kite are lashed together with "lacing cord" -- a common building material in the 1890s. Lacing cord was to the Victorian handyman was duct tape is to today's do-it-yourselfer.

Where the muslin wing covering stretches over a rib, the cover is cut back and the edges are whipped to prevent them from tearing. The ribs themselves slip into pockets sewn in the wing covering.

A close-up on the lower right corner of the kite, showing how the struts are hinged to the spars with cotter pins. The cotter pins are whip-lashed to the struts and spars. Not only does this hold the hardware in place, it keeps the wood from splintering.
Before you fly the kite, you must make sure that all four lines are precisely the same length. Keep them short -- no more than 10 feet long. Adjust the bracing strings so the tail is angled up about 5 degrees.

Here's the kite, ready to fly. If the wind is strong enough, you can launch it from the ground by tugging on the two bottom strings. In lighter winds, have someone hold it up as high as possible and tug on the  bottom strings.

If the wind is steady, the kite will lift off just like an airplane. Don't try to run with the kite -- it doesn't work. The first few moments of flight are very squirrelly. You have only a few seconds to get control.

If you have trouble launching and getting control of the kite, try shortening the strings. The longer the strings, the longer the delay between your control movements and the time the kite actually responds.

Here's how to roll the kite -- angle the control sticks in opposite directions, Normally, you shouldn't have to angle them this far. With a little practice, you can perform slow, gentle rolls.

However, the kite will rarely stay still in the sky as it did for this one photo. It requires constant attention and control inputs from you to keep it from crashing.

Once you're confident that you can roll the kite, loosen the bracing strings so there's some play in them and you can rock the wings back and forth by angling the control sticks in the same direction. As the wings rock, the tail will go up or down. This, in turn, will cause the kite to climb or descend.

When you get the hang of this, you can fly the kite low to the ground...

...or high in the air.

Click on the photo to see an animation of how to warp the kite's wings.

Click for a movie of the kite in flight.

Back to the top

  Home    History Wing    Adventure Wing    Exhibits & Programs    Company Store    Information Desk

"Aviation is proof that – given the will – we can do the impossible."
 Eddie Rickenbacker



The Wright Story/Career Choices/Just Like Flying

Part of a biography of the Wright Brothers
Copyright © 1999-2010