Educator Resources

The Wright Brothers Carry the First Passenger 1908

The Next Step in Aviation: The Wright Brothers Carry the First Passenger 1908

Background:

The Wright Brothers’ first flight on December 17, 1903 was the dawn of a new age but a trip of fifty-nine seconds for a distance of 852 feet did not convince anyone of the commercial viability of air travel. The two continued to experiment for two more years but did not fly at all in 1906 and 1907 and instead began negotiations with the United States and French governments with hopes of doing more with their invention. Neither nation was convinced of the practicality of the new machine and many still doubted that powered-flight had taken place at all. If they could stay aloft for an hour and possibly carry something or someone in the airplane, then maybe there were possibilities.

On May 14, 1908, Orville and Wilbur Wright returned to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina and made a number of flights with a modified 1905 flying machine with two seats. After a number of tests with a bag of sand in the second seat, Charlie Furnas, a friend from Dayton, Ohio, became the first passenger in an airplane with Orville Wright at the controls. Later that same day, Wilbur Wright took the plane up to attempt the hour-long flight. According to one of the primary sources below, he did make the longest flight up to that time at Kitty Hawk but the flight was only seven minutes long. Misjudging the new controls, Wilbur took the plane down when he wanted to go up and, unfortunately, was already very close to the ground. The wreck did not discourage the two brothers. Wilbur had covered eight miles during those seven minutes for a speed of over sixty miles an hour. Later, on September 9, Orville Wright, demonstrating the airplane to the United States Army at Fort Myer, Virginia, would make the first hour-long flight.

These two documents recording the May 1908 flights were written by two newspaper reporters who witnessed the flights from the U.S. Weather Bureau station at Kitty Hawk.

Documents

Refer to Caption Report of airplane crash and Wright Brothers intentions for future test flights.: 05/15/1908 - 05/15/1908 National Archives Identifier 279330
Refer to CaptionReport of airplane crash, 05/14/1908 - 05/14/1908 National Archives Identifier 279331

If a teacher finds unique and effective ways to use these documents in their classroom and would like to share them with other teachers, please contact joel.walker@nara.gov.

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