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1905 Wright Flyer III

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ver the winter of 1904-1905, the Wright brothers built a new aircraft, the Wright Flyer III. Orville first flew this airplane on 23 Jun 1905. Flyer III had a new airframe and an upgraded engine with slightly larger cylinders, but it was essentially the same design and had the same marginal performance and instability as Flyers I and II. These shortcomings caused a major crash on 14 July 1905 that all but wrecked the airplane, but from which Orville emerged unscathed.

The crash convinced the Wrights to make radical changes to the aircraft design. They almost doubled the size of elevator (in front) and rudder (in back) and moved them about twice the distance from the wings. They added two fixed vertical vanes (called "blinkers") between the elevators to serve as stabilizers and help prevent the Flyer's tendency to slip or slide sideways in a turn. They adjusted the rigging to give the wings a very slight dihedral and counter the airplane's tendency to roll. They disconnected the rudder control of the rebuilt Flyer III from the wing warp control -- as they would in all future aircraft -- placing it on a separate control handle. (The wing warp -- roll - and rudder -- yaw -- controls had been interconnected in the 1902 Glider, 1903 Flyer I, and 1904 Flyer II.)  On 5 Oct 1905, Wilbur flew 24 miles (38 kilometers) in 39.5 minutes, longer than the total duration of all the flights of 1903 and 1904. Four days later, they wrote to the Secretary of War, offering to sell the world's first practical airplane.

Flyer III specifications:

  • 40.5 ft (12.3 m) wingspan
  • 2-in approx. (5 cm) dihedral
  • 6.5 ft (198 cm) chord
  • 6 ft (183 cm) separation
  • 503 sq ft (46.7 sq. m) wing area
  • 1:20 camber
  • 83 sq ft (7.7 sq m) double front elevator (referred to by the Wrights as a "horizontal rudder")
  • 34.8 sq ft (3.2 sq m) twin movable vertical rear rudders
  • 28 ft (8.5 m) overall length
  • 780 lb (274.4 kg) total weight (without pilot)
  • 4 cylinder engine, 21 hp at 1400 rpm
  • Two contra-rotating propellers, 8 ft (244 cm) long, turning at 490 rpm

The Wrights disassembled the Flyer III on 7 Nov 1905 and stored it until the spring of 1908 when they adapted it to carry two people, a pilot and a passenger. They also added a lighter, more powerful motor and a new control system. They shipped it Kitty Hawk and on 14 May 1908 made the first passenger flight, taking their mechanic Charlie Furnas aloft for several rides. Wilbur crashed the airplane that same day and they abandoned it at Kitty Hawk, shipping only the engine back to Dayton. The aircraft was salvaged in 1914,  then restored over several years between 1947 and 1950. Today, the restored Flyer III is on display at Wright Hall in Carillon Park, Dayton, OH. For a detailed inspection of this historic treasure, CLICK HERE.


  • McFarland, 1953, pp 514, 524, 1190-1192, plates 87-96, 236.
  • Wright, Orville in Kelly, 1953, p 46.
  •  McFarland, Marvin W. (ed) The papers of Wilbur and Orville Wright. McGraw-Hill Book Co., New York, 1953, pp 514,524, 1190-1192, plates 87-96, 236.
  • 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 46)

[Submitted by Joe W. McDaniel] 

The Wright brothers launched the Flyer III for the first time on 23 June 1905. Note the catapult tower to the right.

After the Flyer was rebuilt following the crash on 14 July 1905, the elevator and rudder control surfaces were moved further out from the wings. This made them more effective and lengthened the response time, both of which made the aircraft easier to control.

On 29 September 1905, the Flyer III flew fourteen circuits of the field and landed only when the 1-gallon gas tank was exhausted. The Wright decided to fit a 3-gallon (11.3 liters) tank to the aircraft.

The Flyer III at Kitty Hawk in May 1908. You can just make out the bench seat for two people.

Top, front, and side views of the 1905 Wright Flyer III.

Initially, the elevator and rudder control surfaces of the Flyer III were "close coupled" -- positioned very close to the wings as on the previous two Flyers. This made the aircraft difficult to control. The Flyer III also had two radiators (fore and aft) to prevent the engine from overheating.

The Wright first tested the rebuilt Flyer on 24 August 1905 and began to tweak the design. By early September, they were consistently flying circles and figure-eights. On this flight -- 7 September 1905 -- they hit a bird. It was the first recorded bird strike in aviation.

On 3, 4, and 5 October 1905, the Wrights made their first public flights since May of 1904, inviting friends, reporters, and upstanding folks they thought would make good witnesses. On 5 October 1905, Wilbur flew for 39.5 minutes, covering 24 miles (38 kilometers) before the gasoline in the new 3-gallon (11.3 liters) tank ran out.

The restored 1905 Wright Flyer III on display at Carillon Park in Dayton, Ohio. We have collected dozens of additional pictures of this exhibit HERE.

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