Wilbur and Orville Wright were brothers who built the first successful airplane. Wilbur was born in 1867 and Orville was born in 1871. The sons of a circuit preacher, the boys grew up in a home that had two libraries—the first consisted of theology books; the second was a large, varied collection. The Wright household was a stimulating learning environment with parents who nurtured creativity, constructive play, and all sorts of academic pursuits. Both boys were free to experiment and explore whatever interested them. Orville wrote of his childhood: "We were lucky…there was always much encouragement to children to pursue intellectual interests; to investigate whatever aroused curiosity."
Milton Wright often allowed his children to stay home from school to work on their own projects. Orville eventually lost interest in school and dropped out completely. Wilbur was an excellent student but didn’t officially graduate from high school and decided that a college degree “would be money and time wasted.” Despite their lack of formal credentials, Orville and Wilbur were highly educated because they did a great deal of private study. In this way, their education was comparable to a four-year college degree. The brothers were clever and intelligent, especially in the areas of science and technology. They spent much of their time inventing mechanical toys, which helped them gain experience solving technical problems.
Orville and Wilbur’s father always brought home souvenirs from his wide-ranging travels. One such trinket, a toy helicopter powered by rubber bands, sparked the brothers’ interest in the possibility of human flight. They studied birds and how they flew. They read every book they could find on the subject of aviation and taught themselves aeronautics (the science of flight). As young men, the pair of self-educated engineers opened a bicycle shop. Then they began to experiment with kites and gliders. They made the first wind tunnel to test different kinds of wings. They were self-confident enough to develop their own theories. As a result, they broke new ground in fluid dynamics, control, stability, motor construction, and propeller design.
The Wright brothers’ first successful airplane flight took place at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on the morning of December 17, 1903. It happened on the beautiful shores of the Outer Banks at Kill Devil Hill. The Wright brothers designed and built both the biplane and its motor. At 10:35 am with Orville in the pilot seat, the Wright brothers' flyer lifted into the air for 12 seconds and covered a distance of 121 feet. For the first time in history, a manned machine left the ground by its own power, moved forward under control without losing speed, and landed on a point as high as that from which it started. Later that day, Wilbur made a much longer flight of 852 feet in 59 seconds.