The Wright Story: 1903
1902 Glider in hangar

The wreck of the 1902 Glider at Kitty Hawk
Image credit: Library of Congress

An unusual fate?

The 1903 Flyer is surely one of aviation's most prized artifacts. All the early experimental Wright aircraft: the 1899 kite, the 1900-1902 gliders, the 1904 Flyer, and the 1905 Flyer were arguably as significant as the 1903 machine.

The only aircraft they deliberately saved was the 1903 Flyer. The gliders were all left in the sand or in the sheds at Kitty Hawk. The 1904 flyer was burned to make more room in their Dayton hangar. The 1905 Flyer, the first practical airplane, was also left to rot in the sand after its last flights in 1908. (It was later salvaged by others and its restoration was Orville's last great project).

The Wrights understood the significance of their achievement. What they prized the most was the knowledge they had gained, not the machines they had built. The machines were always to be improved, rebuilt, tried and tested again and again. Once their usefulness to the process was over, the Wrights simply let them go.

The 1903 Flyer was saved, but it was all but forgotten. Gradually, as Orville defended his work with Wilbur through numerous controversies, the Flyer's importance grew as it became the defining symbol of what they had achieved.