January 08, 1904

An Extraordinary Early, and Rare, Account by Orville Wright of the First Flight at Kitty Hawk

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Just three weeks after the Wright Brothers pioneered flight, Orville Wright explains what went wrong – and right. The longest flight, he says, was  59 seconds: chalk that up to “pilot error” or what Wright calls here, “the inexperience of the operator of this particular machine.”  The rudder of the power "Flyer" was much larger and more powerful than any they had been accustomed to on their gliding machines, he explains; it was “more sensitive to the slightest movement of the controlling lever.” As a result, the “first flight followed a very irregular course with reference to the ground. The succeeding flights became steadier and longer as we… became  more accustomed to handling the rudders, and on the fourth flight on Dec, 17th the machine was pursuing a fairly even course until after passing a small sand hummock which has caused it to rise higher in the air.  In attempting to bring the machine down again, the rudder was turned too far.  The machine made a more sudden descent than the operator had expected; the reverse movement of the rudder was a little too late to prevent it touching the ground.”
 
What went right was the machine: “an indicator attached to the engine showed the speed of the engine to be 1030 rev. per minute while in flight,” which meant that the engine was barely up to speed – but even so, “there was a surplus of power over that required for horizontal flight, as was demonstrated by the fact that it could rise rapidly from the ground.”
 
Wright encloses a newspaper clipping: it’s the only one yet published, he says, to give an “authentic account of the trials of our machine.”

Typed Letter Signed, 2 pages, on the decorative letterhead of Wright Cycle Company, quarto, Dayton, Ohio, January 8, 1904. To Carl Dienstbach in New York.

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Transcript

Wilbur Wright
Orville Wright

Wright Cycle Company
Manufacturers of Van Cleve Bicycles
Established in 1892

1127 West Third Street
Dayton, Ohio
Jan. 8th, 1904.

Mr. Carl Dienstbach,
New York.

Dear Sir:

Your letter of recent date has been received, and we will try to make clear some of the points on which you wish further explanation.

Our longest flight was limited to 59 seconds only through the inexperience of the operator with this particular machine.  The rudder of our power "Flyer" was much larger and more powerful than than any we had been accustomed to on our gliding machines, and was also more sensitive to the slightest movement of the controlling lever.   As a result our first flight followed a very irregular course with reference to the ground.  The succeeding flights became steadier and longer as we be [sic] became  more accustomed to handling the rudders, and on the fourth flight on Dec, 17th the machine was pursuing a fairly even course until after passing a small sand hummock which has caused it to rise higher in the air.  In attempting to bring the machine down again, the rudder was turned too far.  The machine made a more sudden descent, than the operator had expected; the reverse movement of the rudder was a little too late to prevent it touching the ground.

An indicator attached to the engine showed the speed of the engine to be 1030 rev. per minute while in flight, at which speed, of course, the engine does not develope [sic]  its maximum power. Nevertheless, there was a surplus of power over that required for horizontal flight, as was demonstrated by the fact that it could rise rapidly from the ground.  The inclosed [sic] clipping gives the only correct and authentic account of the trials of our machine that have as yet been published.

Yours truly,

ORVILLE WRIGHT

[typed envelope]

Return to
Wright Cycle Co,
Dayton, Ohio

Mr. Carl Dienstbach,
35 West 118th St.
New York City.