The Wright Brothers' modified third glider in flight, 1902.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
Orville Wright (1871-1948) and his brother Wilbur (1867-1912) were self-taught American aeroplane pioneers. They carried out extensive research and testing with gliders in order to establish a design for a heavier-than-air flying machine capable of sustained, controllable flight. A crucial feature of their design was the prone position of the pilot, which reduced air resistance considerably compared to earlier designs which had the pilot in an upright position. After succesfully designing their glider, the brothers then fitted a petrol engine to the machine, which they named the 'Flyer'. On 17 December 1903 with Orville at the controls, the Flyer made the world's first sustained powered flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.