(You are here.)
this is your first
visit, please stop by:
Available in Française, Español, Português, Deutsch, Россию,
日本, and others.
he brothers were back in Kitty Hawk by the end of August, 1902. Their new glider
was a biplane with roughly the same wing surface area as the 1901 machine, but the
similarities ended there. The wing span was ten feet longer and the chord two feet shorter
than the older machine, making the glider look not just larger, but also more graceful.
The wing camber followed a shallow parabolic curve, and the elevator was extended farther
out in front of the pilot. This gave it more leverage, which translated into better
control. Finally, the brothers decided to replace the tail they had
abandoned in 1900. The 1902 glider had two
fixed vertical surfaces behind the aircraft. Wilbur and Orville calculated that these would help prevent the
skidding that occurred when they warped the wings.
From its first test flight as a
kite, it was evident that their new glider was vastly superior to their two previous
machines. The amount of lift produced by the new wing design was very close to what the
brothers had predicted. Within a few weeks, they were making glides of over 500
feet. For the first time, Orville began to fly. As Wilbur had done with earlier machines,
he smashed up the glider in a spectacular crash, resulting in "a heap of flying
machine, cloth, and sticks
with me in the center without a scratch or a bruise."
But it took more than a crash to discourage the brothers at this point -- they put the
glider back together and kept on flying.
One problem persisted. The glider still slipped in turns. The tail did little to stop
it; in fact, Orville suspected it actually aggravated the problem. When the wings were
warped and the plane began to turn, the set of wings inside the turn was moving slower
(and therefore generated less lift) than the wings on the outside. At the same time, the
fixed tail - no longer parallel to the air stream - presented a broad surface
that dragged in the air, increased the skid, and further slowed the inside wings. The
wings dropped as they lost more and more lift, and the glider went into an uncontrolled
spiral the brothers dubbed "well-digging."
Thinking it through, Orville determined that they could avoid digging wells if the
fixed tail were transformed into a movable rudder with its own separate control. This
would allow the pilot to adjust its angle during a turn to overcome the drag
from the high wing, keep the inside wing from losing too much lift,
and prevent the
aircraft from skidding . Wilbur
accepted the idea, but suggested the pilot already had enough to do without another
control. Instead, the brothers coupled the wires that turned the rudder to the wing
This was the last piece of the control puzzle. The movable rudder made the 1902 Wright
glider the first aircraft capable of being precisely balanced in flight. The wing warping
controlled roll, raising or lowering a wing. The elevator controlled pitch, turning
the gliders nose up or down. And the rudder controlled yaw, moving the nose
left or right. So basic was this breakthrough that every aircraft (and spacecraft!) flying
today still uses the same fundamental roll, pitch, and yaw controls first developed by the
The 1902 Kitty Hawk camp was a crowded, busy place. The Wrights brother Lorin
turned up unexpectedly, his curiosity having been aroused by their letters home. Octave
Chanute and George Spratt visited again, along with another of Chanutes aeronautical
acquaintances, Augustus Herring. Herring was the co-designer and builder of the 1896
biplane glider that had inspired the Wrights own design. He brought with him an
altered version of that craft, with wings that rocked back and forth to keep the craft
balanced. It was a humiliating failure, barely able to glide 50 feet. Herring left after a
few days, understandably jealous of the Wrights success. The remaining visitors
helped the brothers launch their craft again and again, sometimes making over 100 flights
in a single day.
However, the best flying came in late October, when their visitors left. Wilbur made a
glide covering 622 feet; Orvilles best was 615 feet. Having licked the control
problem, they honed their flying skills as they planned their next step - a powered
on a photo to enlarge it.
Arriving at Kitty Hawk in 1902 --
quarters were initially crowded by the 1901 glider until it was
dismantled. The struts were recycled in the 1902 glider.
Kiting the 1902 glider.
Flying the 1902 glider with a fixed tail -- an
invitation to "well digging."
The 1902 glider after the tail was transformed into
a movable rudder.
The 1902 glider banking left.
The 1902 glider banking right.
The 1902 glider landing -- safely.