The evolution of an idea

The Wrights' first aircraft was a kite, designed and built in 1899. It was the foundation for all their aircraft designs. The Wrights also flew all their unpowered machines in tests as kites.

1899 kite1899 kite design

1899 - The 1899 kite was designed and built by Wilbur to test whether wing warping would be a sufficient method for achieving lateral control. A few short flights proved its value, and plans were made for a machine large enough to carry a man (O. Wright, p. 13).

1900 glider/kite1900 glider

1900 - The 1900 glider was modified from its original plan when Wilbur arrived in Norfolk, Virginia on his way to Kitty Hawk and was unable to find lumber long enough for his planned wingspan. The machine was barely strong enough to lift him and was mainly tested as a kite. Its performance was promising enough to lead to a much larger machine the next year (O. Wright, p. 15).

1901 glider1901 glider

1901 - The 1901 glider was the largest glider ever built. Its puzzling performance (based on their expectations from the previous year) led to many kite tests, the results of which led the Wrights to question the theoretical basis for their work to that point (O. Wright, pp. 17-18). Throughout the tests of 1899-1901, the practice of "kiting" the machine allowed the Wrights to make controlled, carefully monitored experiments, which produced reliable, accurate data. These tests are the direct predecessors of the groundbreaking wind tunnel tests of 1901-1902.

Image credits: Library of Congress