Powered Flight's First Recip

Charles Taylor and the Wright Brothers


Their goal was for the engine to run at 875 rpm which would drive the propellers at 305 rpm creating a static thrust of 100 pounds. Their “test equipment” comprised a 50-pound box of sand suspended from a pulley with a rope attached to one end of the machine whose center skids were supported on rollers. After switching the sprocket sizes several times they finally achieved a propeller rpm of 350 which created 135 pounds of static thrust. Testing of the fuel system resulted in an estimated engine running time of 18 minutes. By early December, they were ready for the “test track.”

Their first successful flight occurred on Dec. 14 with Wilbur flying just over 100 feet for 3.5 seconds, before stalling the wing and crashing to the ground. But the damage was minor and the brothers reported: “The machinery all worked in an entirely satisfactory manner, and seems reliable. The power is ample . . . There is now no question of final success.”

On the morning of Dec. 17, 1903, Orville Wright made their historic 12-second flight. They took turns that day with Wilbur piloting the final flight of 852 feet.

The engine was completely disassembled a year later to make detailed drawings which were incorporated into blueprints for the later 1904 and 1905 models and their engineering feats were documented.

Additional ReSources
DuFour, H. R. and Peter J. Unitt, Charles E. Taylor: The Wright Brothers Mechanician, Prime Digital Printing, Dayton, OH, 2002.
Hobbs, Leonard S., The Wright Brothers’ Engines and Their Design, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C., 1971.

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