(You are here.)
this is your first
visit, please stop by:
Available in Française, Español, Português, Deutsch, Россию,
日本, and others.
the triumph of the first powered flights in 1903, 1904 turned out to be a trial. First
off, the Brothers faced a tough decision. Flying, for them, had become more than a hobby .
They could not devote the resources needed to continue their aeronautical experiments
without some sort of payback -- their financial future was at stake. They decided to
make the attempt, but they "were compelled to regard it as a strict business
proposition," according to Wilbur.
To take financial advantage of their work, they
would need a patent. They had already tried to file one themselves, but their application
had been rejected in 1903. They decided to hire a professional patent attorney, Henry A.
Toulmin, in nearby Springfield, Ohio. Toulmin advised them to continue work on a practical
flying machine, but to say as little as possible about their invention until the patent
To make real progress, the Wrights decided to bring their test flights closer to home.
During Orville's last years in school, the one subject he had loved above all others was
botany. He had taken field trips with his class out to Huffman Prairie (between Dayton and
Springfield) where, in the 1830s, botanist John Leonard Riddell had discovered three new
species of plants. Wilbur and Orville took another expedition out to the Prairie, decided
it would make a suitable flying field, and ask permission of its present owner,
banker Torrence Huffman, to use it as such. Huffman was bemused at their request,
but he saw no harm in letting them use this unproductive piece of land. (Privately, he
told Dave Beard, who lived on a farm next to Huffman Prairie, that he thought the Wright
brothers were "fools.")
The Wrights built a hanger and a second Flyer in a far corner of the Prairie.
The 1904 Flyer 2 had a slightly flatter wing than the Flyer 1, and the
rudder outriggers were securely fastened to the rear spars instead of the
trailing edges of the ribs. The Wrights had also moved the pivot point of
the elevator so is wasn't so sensitive. But other than than, it was a clone
of the first Flyer. It even had the same engine. Charlie
Taylor made two more horizontal four-cylinder engines -- one to replace the engine that had been destroyed when the
gust of wind destroyed the Flyer 1 and another for experimental purposes. By May of 1904,
the brothers were ready to resume flying.
They were beleaguered by another problem, however. Wild stories about their Kitty Hawk
flights circulated in the newspapers. (These had begun with a fantastic fabrication in the
Virginia-Pilot the day after the first flights -- "Flying Machine Soars 3
Miles in Teeth of High Wind...") The Wrights were genuinely amazed at the ease with
which the press manipulated the truth and were determined to correct the misconceptions
that abounded. They invited reporters from the prominent newspapers in Dayton and
Cincinnati to watch them fly their new machine on May 23 with the understanding that there
would be no photographs allowed.
A crowd of about 40 people gathered at Huffman Prairie on May 23 to watch the Wright
brothers fly. Their new machine, the Flyer 2, was a virtual copy of the Flyer 1, which had
flown successfully just six months ago. But the Flyer 2 proved more reluctant to leave the
ground. The new engine was hard to start and continually misfired when they finally got it
going. Orville made a run down a 100-foot launching rail but never rose an inch off the
ground. Three days later, on May 26, the Wrights tried again with just a few reporters in
attendance. Orville managed only a brief hop of 25 feet.
Everyone went home disappointed -- the reporters, the Wright brothers, even Bishop
Milton Wright wrote of the general discouragement in his diary. The Wrights hadn't shown
the world they could fly but, quite by accident, they had achieved one of their
objectives. The stories in the newspapers stopped. Based on what the newspapers had been
shown, they unanimously decided there was nothing to report.
The Wright Brothers made 40 more attempts to fly in the summer of 1904, but the longest
flight they could manage was 600 feet. The problem was apparent to both of them. Wilbur
calculated that their airplane needed to be moving at a speed of at least 27 to 28 miles
per hour relative to the wind for a successful launch. The slower the
wind was blowing, the faster the airplane had to move to take off. In Kitty Hawk, there
were strong winds to help. Some engineers have calculated that the Flyer 1 only needed a
forward motion of 3 miles per hour to lift off in the gale that was blowing on December
17, 1903. But in the relatively light winds of the Ohio prairie, with a short launching
rail and an underpowered machine, the Flyer 2 couldn't get up the necessary speed. Looking
back, Orville later compared their tribulations to those of the biblical Jonah: "We
certainly have been "Jonahed" this year."
Click on a
photo to enlarge it.
The 1904 Flyer 2 and its hangar
at Huffman Prairie.
Wilbur and Orville consult over
the Flyer 2.
The Flyer 2 poised on its track, ready for launch.
The Flyer 2 was a virtual clone of the Flyer 1. Because the Wrights only
made four flights in there first aircraft before a gust of wind rolled it
over, they felt they had not adequately tested the design. So except for
some minor changes in the wing and frame, the first two Wright Flyers were
Many of the early flights at Huffman Prairie ended
like this, with the Flyer 2 crashed just a few hundred feet from the end
of the track.