“The desire to fly is an idea handed down to us by our ancestors who… looked enviously on the birds soaring freely through space… on the infinite highway of the air.” – Wilbur Wright
Upon entering the Early Flight Gallery inside the Stafford Air and Space Museum, guests are greeted by Orville Wright in the pilots “seat” of the Wright Brother’s world famous Wright Flyer. Orville, who on December 17, 1903, made the historic first flight which lasted only twelve seconds and traveled only 120 feet before landing. The brothers’ incredible feat was not about getting into the air, but more for the development of the first controlled, powered, and sustained heavy-than-air human flight. Gathering data and studying from past flying enthusiast, Otto Lilienthal, the brothers continued Lilienthal’s research of using gliders to develop a means of a controlled powered flight. The Wright Brothers saw three problems that needed to be solved for such a flight: lift, propulsion, and control.
Their glider which flew at first like a kite was the brothers’ first step in achieving a powered flight. They built three gliders all capable of carrying a person. Each glider became a little more sophisticated as the brothers learned from each flight what was needed in order for more control. The 1900 Glider was first flown as an unmanned kite at their test site, Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, before Wilbur climbed aboard and made a dozen free flights in one day. The 1901 Glider was similar to the 1900 version but it had larger wings. The 1902 Glider, which is featured in the museum lobby, utilized yaw control using a rear rudder and this design led to the 1903 Wright Flyer. From piloting their glider they learned that flying had three basic movements: turning left and right, going up and down, and rolling the airplane from side to side. All of these movements had to be controlled by the pilot and the Wright Brothers developed a way to conduct each action.
On the morning of December 17, they returned to Kitty Hawk and attempted the first powered flight of their Flyer. The Flyer was placed on a trolley that took off of a “runway” made up of 2x4s, which the brothers nicknamed the “Junction Railroad.” The brother who wasn’t manning the aircraft had to run alongside it holding the wing level for liftoff. With much anticipation, Orville flew into the wind, achieving lift. Facing into the wind allowed air to rush over the wings resulting in more lift and this got the Flyer off the ground quicker. Once in the air, one of the Life-Saving Station employees, John T. Daniel was so excited about seeing the Flyer take off; he nearly forgot to take the picture as instructed by Orville. After the fourth successful flight, a strong wind gust caught the flyer and sent it end over end, ultimately damaging the Flyer beyond repair. The Wright Brothers quickly realized the historical significance of their flyer and had it shipped back home to Dayton, OH. It was placed in storage for nine years. Ongoing debates with Orville and the Smithsonian began about placing the Flyer on display. Orville had presented the Flyer to the Science Museum in London, hoping to entice the Smithsonian to display it. However, the enticement didn’t work and the Flyer was sent to London in 1925. There, the Flyer remained on display until WWI. In 1948, The Flyer was brought back to the States and was placed in the Smithsonian where it has remained as one of the most popular artifacts on display. The Stafford Air and Space Museum’s Wright Flyer is considered one of the most accurate full scale replicas ever built and is a favorite among guests and remains one of the most prominent and well known exhibits in Western Oklahoma. The museum is one of the only museums in western Oklahoma to feature both the 1902 Glider and the 1903 Flyer.