The Wright brothers were always fascinated by mechanics. After reading about the death of pioneer glider pilot Otto Lilienthal in 1896, they became interested in flying. They soon obtained all the scientific knowledge of aeronautics then available. By the fall of 1903, they had constructed a powered airplane with wings 40.5 feet long. They designed and built their own lightweight gasoline engine for the airplane.
On December 17, 1903 near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, they made the world's first flight in a powered, heavier-than-air machine. With Orville at the controls, the plane flew 120 feet in 12 seconds. The brothers made three more flights that day. The longest, by Wilbur, was 852 feet in 59 seconds.
The Wrights believed that airplanes would eventually be used to transport passengers and mail. When the Wrights first offered their machine to the U.S. government, they were not taken seriously, but by 1908 they closed a contract with the U.S. Department of War for the first military airplane.
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