Fascinating Details About The First Airplane

A large passenger jet flying through a blue sky

One of the greatest inventions ever, the airplane can be credited to numerous inventors throughout its history. The first airplane took flight on December 17th, 1903, but many will be surprised to find out that this invention was not the work of one person but rather the result of teamwork between two very different men. In honor of Wright Brothers Day, take a look at some of the fascinating details about the first airplane…and then go ahead and get your pilot’s license!

The History Begins

A plane flying in the air

The history of the airplane began in the early 19th century with the development of lighter-than-air flying machines. It continued with the heavier-than-air devices of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The early development of flying machines was pioneered by Da Vinci, Brunel, and others. Still, it was not until the mid-20th century that aircraft technology had advanced enough to allow routine, safe commercial flights.  


A large air plane on a cloudy day

The Wright brothers spent years tinkering with prototypes and testing their designs, but they didn’t have to wait until all Dreamers of their ideas were perfected to move forward. The world wasn’t going to stand still while they figured out all the kinks. Instead, they did what most successful entrepreneurs do. They went ahead with a less-than-perfect product and dealt with improvements along the way. Like many first-time inventors, they made mistakes—they crashed in one of their early tests—but because they kept trying new things, those mistakes led them closer to success than quitting would have.

Gustave Whitehead

Whitehead may not have made it off terra firma, but he is widely credited with building and flying a powered, controlled aircraft before anyone else. His eight-engine, steam-powered rig didn’t soar through the air much further than 100 feet (30 meters) during its first tethered flight in 1901, but subsequent tests were reportedly more successful. Unfortunately, Whitehead was ignored mainly because of his German heritage and lack of formal education.

Otto Lilienthal

He was born on June 5th, 1848, in Anklam, Germany. He was an engineer and aviation pioneer known as The Glider King because of his many glider designs. He died on August 10th, 1896, when he fell from one of his gliders. He developed machines for studying how humans fly, understanding flight concepts such as lift and drag. In 1891 he presented a more accurate method of determining airspeed. It is still in use today by aircraft worldwide; it always allows precise measurement without using a moving mechanical device to measure speed.

Orville & Wilbur Wright

The Wright brothers, Orville and Wilbur, are iconic figures in history, often viewed as responsible for inventing (and building) the first airplane. That feat took place at Kitty Hawk on December 17th, 1903; they forever changed how humans could get from Point A to Point B with that single flight. Given their fame and impact on society, there are likely few people alive today who don’t know some of these basic facts about them.


They say that necessity is the mother of invention, so it was for Wilbur and Orville Wright. In a world where we complain about not having enough time to get things done, it may be surprising to learn that they only spent three years designing and building their airplane.

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