1901 Wright Glider

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he Wrights flew their second glider several hundred times at Kitty Hawk in July and August 1901, making flights that ranged from 50 to 400 feet (15 to 122 meters). It flew modestly better than their 1900 glider, but it was still a disappointment to the Wright brothers. It was much less responsive to its controls than their first (1900) glider. And even though it supported their weight well enough to make some reasonably long glides, it still did not produce the amount of lift Wilbur's calculations had predicted.

The 1901 Wright Glider specifications:

  • 22 ft (6.7 m) wingspan
  • 7 ft (2.1 m) chord
  • 1/12 camber, later reduced to 1/19
  • 4.8 ft (1.5 m) separation
  • 290 sq ft (26.9 sq m) wing area
  • 18 sq ft (1.7 sq m) front elevator area
  • 14 ft (4.3 m) length
  • 98 lbs (44.5 kg) weight.

There was no vertical rudder or stabilizer.

Believing the inadequate lift of the 1900 glider to be its shallow 1/23 camber, they initially built the 1901 glider with the 1/12 camber recommended by Lilienthal. They also greatly increased the size of the wings. Sluggish performance and problems with control caused them to change the camber to 1/19, but the low aspect (wingspan to chord) ratio of just 3:1 still caused marginal performance. They found a slight anhedral (drooping wing tips) provided resistance to side gusts. Unstable anhedral wings were characteristic on most subsequent Wright airplanes.

The 1901 Wright glider was a frustration to the Wright Brothers. On the way home from Kitty Hawk, a sad and discouraged Wilbur is said to have remarked to Orville that although he still believed man would fly, it would not be in his lifetime. The glider remained stored in camp at Kitty Hawk until 1902 when the brothers scavenged its uprights for their third (1902) glider, and destroyed the remainder.

See more images of the 1901 Wright Glider in our Virtual Hangar.


  • McFarland, 1953, pp 1184-5; plates 19-29, 35.
  • Wright, Orville in Kelly, 1953, p 15-17.
  •  McFarland, Marvin W. (ed) The papers of Wilbur and Orville Wright. McGraw-Hill Book Co., New York, 1953, pp 1184-5; plates 19-29, 35.
  • 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 15-17)

[Submitted by Joe W. McDaniel]

At the time that it was built, the 1901 Wright glider was the largest soaring machine that anyone had attempted to fly.

The Wrights launched the glider with the assistance of Dan Tate, a local "Banker," as the residents of the North Carolina Outerbanks called themselves. At this point, Wilbur (center) was still doing all the flying. Orville (right) assisted in launches.

A close up of Wilbur in flight.

The 1901 Wright glider resting on the sand outside the shed the Wrights built to house it.

As with the 1900 glider, the Wrights few the 1901 glider first as a kite to measure the lift and drag its wings produced.

The 1901 Wright glider in flight. It was stable enough to make glides up to 400 ft (122 m), but its response to it controls was sluggish and sometimes unpredictable.

The 1901 glider landed. No the skids marks in the sand behind the glider -- the "roll-out" was very short; the glider came to a stop quickly after it touched down.

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