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120th Anniversary of the First Powered, Controlled Flight


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In this black and white photo, a white airplane with two sets of stacked wings with wires connecting them flies low to the ground. A man, Wilbur Wright, stands on the right with his back to the camera.
Library of Congress

In this image from Dec. 17, 1903, Orville Wright makes the first powered, controlled flight on Earth as his brother Wilbur looks on. Orville Wright covered 120 feet in 12 seconds during the first flight of the day. The Wright brothers made four flights that day, each longer than the last.

The aircraft, Flyer 1, was wrecked beyond repair after the fourth flight, but Orville took the wreckage home to Ohio and restored it. It went on display at the London Science Museum until 1948 when the Smithsonian Institution took ownership.

The Wrights’ legacy has traveled beyond Earth; engineers attached a postage-stamp-sized piece of Flyer 1’s wing material to a cable underneath NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter. As of Dec. 2, 2023, Ingenuity has traveled a total distance of 9.6 miles with a total flight time of 2 hours 1 minute 5 seconds. Its ground-breaking mission continues, paving the way for future aerial explorers of Mars.

Explore this historic flight and its effect on aeronautics.

Image Credit: Library of Congress

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