The Birth of Aviation Exhibition

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n 2003, the Centennial of Flight, the Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company unveiled a unique and exciting exhibit at the Dayton Air Show in Dayton, Ohio. It was the largest display of Wright airplanes and artifacts ever gathered and the first time that all the Wright experimental aircraft were shown together. The exhibition included all of  the kites, gliders, and Flyers that the Wrights built between 1899 and 1905 in the quest for a practical flying machine. And most important, it told the Wright story by letting visitors experience it for themselves.

Since then, the "Birth of Aviation" exhibition has been on the road, showing at science museums, air museums, air shows, and other venues all over North America. If you're looking for something with a recognizable name to draw the crowds, something entertaining and educational that engages and inspires your visitors, something that creates good experiences and great memories, this exhibit is all of that.

The Airplanes

The Birth of Aviation features the most important aircraft in aviation, the experimental kite, gliders, and airplanes that lead to the invention of powered flight, making it possible for man to fly. These include:

  • 1899 Wright Kite, with which the Wright brothers tested a revolutionary idea for controlling an airplane.
  • 1900 Wright Glider, the Wrights' first attempt to build a manned aircraft.
  • 1901 Wright Glider, which convinced them of the need for basic scientific research in aerodynamics.
  • 1902 Wright Glider, the first airplane with 3-axis control, and the basis of the Wright's grandfather patent.
  • 1903 Wright Flyer 1, the first aircraft to make a sustained, controlled, powered flight.
  • 1905 Wright Flyer 3, the first practical aircraft.

These aren't just replicas or static models. They are operational aircraft. We didn't just build them, we conducted an expedition in experimental archaeology, test-flying each aircraft and repeating the flight experiments of the Wright brothers. In doing so, we gained a deep, personal understanding of the events that led up to the birth of aviation. This unique adventure is part of the story we tell.

Our 1899 Wright Kite, flown by Nick Engler for the video series "The Machines of the Wright Brothers."

Author James Tobin (left, "To Conquer the Skies") and WBAC members launch our 1901 Wright Glider for a test flight.

Capt. Connie Tobias repeats the first flight in our 1903 Wright Flyer.

Our 1900 Wright Glider kited by Wright brothers re-enactors Tom Cherry and Dave Thompson for the documentary "Kitty Hawk: A Journey of Invention."

Our 1902 Wright Glider. flown by Capt. Jim Alexander USAF for the "Centennial of Controlled Flight" in October, 2002.

Our 1905 Wright Flyer on the launch rail with the catapult cocked.

The Flight Simulators

For each of the gliders and Flyers listed above, we used our flying experience to develop a corresponding flight simulator. We partnered with Paul Beardsley, the guru of virtual pioneer aviation, to develop realistic simulations based on the writings of the Wright brothers and our own flight data. As a result, visitors to the Birth of Aviation exhibit can see and fly all of the Wright brothers' experimental aircraft, experiencing the frustration and elation of pioneer flight. In this way, visitors don't just learn about the birth of aviation. They fly through it.

To see our 1903 Wright Flyer Flight Simulator in action, CLICK HERE.

A visitor to the Birth of Aviation Pavillion lands the 1900 Wright glider on our simulator.

Wright brothers look-alikes flying our 1902 Glider Flight Simulator.

The Artifacts

The birth of aviation wasn't all about airplanes and flying. It incorporated the careful investigation of aerodynamic forces – lift and drag – both in the laboratory and in real flight. To do this, the Wright brothers built several scientific instruments and purchased others. They also combined skills and information from diverse technologies such as metalworking, woodworking, mechanics, internal combustion engines, marlinship, sailmaking, and a dozen more. We have gathered historic artifacts and built displays to show how the Wrights carefully gathered the materials, abilities, and knowledge needed to create the first true airplane. These include:

  • 1901 Wind tunnel and balances, design the measure lift and drag of wing shapes and configurations.
  • Wright "field" instruments, including a anemometer, clinometer, stop watch, spring scales, and measuring wheel.
  • Wright "Bat," their first flying model.
  • An operational letterpress, similar to one owned by the Wrights, set up to print "The Midget," Orville's first newspaper, plus examples of their printing skills.
  • Wright bicycles, including the "bicycle experiment" apparatus the Wright's made to test lift forces.
  • A working replica of the 1903 Wright engine built by master machinist Terry Hessler.
  • Important pages from the Wrights' scientific diaries in which they recorded their experiments.
  • The actual line-driven drill press used to make the historic engine.
  • A piece of the wing covering of the historic 1903 Wright Flyer.

The 1878 Wright "Bat," the very first flying machine made by the Wright brothers – with their mothers help.

A replica of a Wright "St. Clair" outfitted for an experiment is aerodynamics.

Kids line up to drill a hole with the "Wright" drill press – used to make the gears for their first airplane engine.

Our replica of the 1901 Wright wind tunnel and the balances used to measure lift and drag.

The instruments the Wright brothers used at Kitty Hawk to measure the performance of their airplanes.

Terry Hessler starts a replica of the 1903 Wright engine.

The Videos

The Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company partnered with David Garrigus Productions to produce "The Machines of the Wright Brothers," eight short videos that show how the Wrights designed and built their experimental aircraft, wind tunnel, engine, and propellers. They are hosted by Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company director Nick Engler. We play these videos at the appropriate stations in the exhibition to demonstrate the aircraft and other equipment for visitors.

A visitor stops to watch the first segment of "Machines of the Wright Brothers," which demonstrates the 1899 Wright Kite.

Click the image above to watch "Machines of the Wright Brothers: The 1899 Kite" (3:56).

The Timeline

All of these components – aircraft, artifacts, simulators, and videos – are arranged in a walk-through timeline. Ten-foot high banners create walls of information and images, explaining  how the Wright brothers attacked and eventually solved the "flight problem" step by step. Visitors stroll from year to year, seeing how the Wright brothers evolved and matured. Make no mistake, this is not just a vaguely interesting collection of old airplanes and machinery. This is the story of a pivotal historic event and scientific achievement in in which your visitors can immerse themselves.

At the beginning of the timeline.

Looking down the timeline from 1900 to 1902 in the Birth of Aviation Pavilion.

The Versatility

The Birth of Aviation exhibit is an integrated assembly of airplanes, simulators, artifacts, videos, and instructive displays that all work together to tell a single tale – the story of the invention of the airplane. However, the exhibit is not rigid. We designed the components to be adaptable. They can be set up in many different configurations to best fit the space you have  available.

This is the plan for the Birth of Aviation Pavilion, where we premiered this exhibit in 2003. If you'd like to experiment with how to fit our airplanes in your facility, we offer a planning guide we call the "Wright Stuffer." Download the planning guide by clicking HERE.

At the Maryland Science Center in Baltimore, we were short on floor space. So we hung the gliders and the kite.

The El Paso Science Museum didn't have the headroom for our 10-foot banners, so we brought a shorter set.

The banners don't have to be arranged to form walls and corridors. In Omaha, we created "pinwheels." They can also be arranged in simple squares.

At the Festival of Flight in North Carolina, we sat the gliders on the floor and hung a Flyer.

The Experience

What matters most, of course, has nothing to do with airplanes, artifacts, simulators, or videos. What matters is what sort of experience will your visitors will have? To help answer that question, we asked filmmaker Tom Meyers to visit the Birth of Aviation Pavilion at the Dayton Air Show in 2005. Tom walked around and took videos of what he felt were the highlights. It's a short film, barely four minutes long, but it will show you what to expect.

The faces of some of our visitors.

To see some highlights of the Birth of Aviation exhibit, click on the image above.

The Tour

If you have a little more time to spend and you'd like to tour the Birth of Aviation exhibition and see all of the displays, we can do that. In this short film (11:05 minutes) Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company director Nick Engler walks us through the timeline when we first introduced the exhibition in 2003. It's grown since then – most important, we've added more simulators – but it gives you a good idea of the amazing stuff we have to share.

WBAC Director Nick Engler explains the 1903 Wright engine.

To take a quick tour of the Birth of Aviation exhibit, click on the image above.

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