Just the facts
1904 Wright Flyer II

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sing no parts from Flyer I, the Wrights built a biplane slightly heavier than their first (780 lbs or 354 kg). They beefed up the landing skids and other parts of the airframe to make the Flyer more robust.  They also decreased the wing camber from 1:20 to 1:25. This was the only plane they ever made with such a shallow camber. But for all aeronautical purposes, the second Flyer was an identical copy of the first.

The Wrights knew that they had not tested the Flyer I design sufficiently to make significant changes. But the Flyer II was also a test bed and it did not remain a copy for long. The Wright brothers added extensions to the skids to keep the wings and propellers clear of the ground. They moved the engine backward and then forward to adjust the center of gravity. The attached iron bars to the skids under the elevator to further adjust the center of gravity. They moved the radiator to the rear, then added a second radiator in the front to aid in cooling the engine. They changed the shape of the vertical rudder, increased the capacity of the gas tank, lengthened the propellers and changed their shape.

During 23 May to 1 Dec 1904, the Wrights attempted to fly or flew a total of 105 times at Huffman Prairie, eight miles east of Dayton, OH. Without the high winds of Kitty Hawk, the Wrights had great difficulty launching the Flyer, although they were able to make a few flights that covered up to  1432 feet (436 meters). Beginning 7 Sep 1904, Wrights used catapult  to launch plane in calm wind. This "catapult" was actually a wooden derrick, 20 feet (6 meters) high, which dropped a 1200-1400 pound (544-726 kg) weight. The weight was attached to a rope, which ran through a compound (double) pulley at the top of the derrick and a simple pulley attached to the weight.  From there, it ran down to the ground and 65-75 feet (20-23 meters) horizontally under the launching rail, through another simple pulley, and back to a tow bar attached to the btton front wing. The Flyer rest on a wheeled trolley or "truck" so it could roll along the rail. When the weight was released it fell just 16-1/2 feet (5 meters), but owing to the compound pulley arrangement, it pulled the Flyer three times further -- 49-1/2 feet (15 meters). As the weight fell, the Flyer accelerated much faster than it would have with the thrust of the propellers alone. The falling weight produced hundreds of foot-pounds of additional thrust for the first few seconds of the launch.

The Wright made 105 flights in 1904, racking up 45 minutes in total flight time. In this airplane on 20 September, they made the first complete 360-degree turn in an aircraft. The two best flights (9 Nov and 1 Dec) exceeded 5 minutes and covered about 3 miles (4.8 kilometers). During the 9 November flight, they circled the field almost four times.

Over the winter of 1904-1905, the brothers built a third machine, the Wright Flyer III, recycling the mechanical parts of the Flyer II. The wooden parts were burned in 1905.


  •  McFarland, Marvin W. (ed) The papers of Wilbur and Orville Wright. McGraw-Hill Book Co., New York, 1953, p 1183, plates 79-86.
  • Wright, Orville, "How We Invented the Airplane." (from depositions in Montgomery vs. U.S. 13 Jan 20 and 2 Feb 21; in Kelly, Fred C. (editor) How We Invented the Airplane, an Illustrated History. Dover Publications, New York, 1953, p 45)

    [Submitted by Joe W. McDaniel] 

The 1904 Wright Flyer II was almost identical to the 1903 Flyer I, as you can see by comparing these two photos.

The Flyer II was hangared in a small shed the brothers built on the prairie. The brothers removed the front elevator and the rear rudder, then slid the aircraft into the shed.

When flying in ground effect, the air is not moving over the control surfaces as fast as it would be in flight at higher altitudes, so the controls are "mushy." Additionally, the Flyer II was an unstable aircraft, especially in pitch -- the nose had a tendency to hunt up or down. With the aircraft close to the ground, the control surfaces not as effective as they might be, and the pitch of the aircraft in constant need of control input, many early flights ended like this.

With the addition of the catapult, they began to make longer flights at higher altitudes and crashed less often. Note that the radiator is mounted on a rear strut.

Top, front, and side views of the 1904 Wright Flyer II.

The Wright brothers tested the Flyer II at Huffman Prairie, a pasture about eight miles (13 kilometers) northeast of Dayton, Ohio and the present site of Wright-Paterson Air Force Base.

During their earliest flights in the Flyer II, with little wind to help achieve flying speed, the Wrights took off in "ground effect" where the air is compressed between the wings and the ground. This phenomenon allows flight at lower speeds than would be possible at higher altitudes.

After a frustrating summer trying to get off the ground and out of ground effect, the Wrights built a catapult to help accelerate the Flyer II during launch. (You can just see the outline of the catapult tower to the right of the hangar). With the catapult, the Flyer could be accelerated to 29 miles per hour (47 kph) before it reached the end of the rail. Wilbur calculated flying speed to be "27 to 28" mph (43 to 45 kph).

The best flight of the year was on 9 November 1904 when they flew four circuits of the prairie, covering 3 miles or 4.8 kilometers.

The Wright launching catapult consisted of a derrick (1) and a launching rail (2). The derrick suspended a heavy weight (3) about 20 feet (6 meters) above the ground. A rope ran from a simple pulley (4) at the top of the weight through a compound pulley (5) at the top of the derrick, then down through the simple pulley and back up through the compound pulley. From there it ran down to a simple pulley (6) at the bottom of the derrick, then under the rail to another simple pulley (7) about 65-75 feet (20-23 meters) out along the rail. From there, it ran back to a hook on a tow bar at the front of the airplane (not shown). The airplane rested on a two-wheel truck (8) which rested on the rail. When the weight dropped, the rope pulled the airplane and the truck along the rail. As the airplane took off, the rope slipped off the tow bar hook and the truck ran off the rail's end. For more information about the Wright catapult, including an interactive 3D illustration, click HERE.

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