First Airplane Flight

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Wright, Wilbur.jpg
Reproduction of a portrait of inventor Wilbur Wright from Dayton, Ohio, ca. 1900-1912. Wilbur and his brother Orville built and flew the first mechanically powered airplane.

The first successful flight of a powered airplane occurred at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on December 17, 1903. The plane's designers were Dayton residents Orville and Wilbur Wright, who until that point had made a living by building bicycles. That first plane was very primitive, but within a few years, the Wright brothers, as well as other aircraft designers, had begun to make many improvements. The first flight only lasted twelve seconds and traveled 120 feet, but a later flight that day lasted fifty-nine seconds and traveled 852 feet.

Many Americans, including journalists, did not believe the story of the Wright brothers' first flight. Only five Ohio newspapers covered the story originally, because the others refused to believe that flight was possible. That skepticism proved to be short-lived, and Americans became very interested in news stories about airplanes.

Early airplanes were very dangerous, and there were numerous dramatic crashes. At first, Americans viewed flying as an exciting form of entertainment -- something thrilling to watch, but not something the average person would do themselves. Pilots tried to achieve aviation milestones for the first time and get their names in the newspapers. Airplanes were first used for military purposes during World War I, but only in very limited ways. World War I pilots usually were involved in reconnaissance, although there were some instances where pilots were involved in battles in the sky with another plane. Ohioan Edward V. Rickenbacker became known the flying ace for his aeronautical feats during World War I. After World War I, there were many additional advances in airplane design that made flights much safer. Eventually, planes would be used for military, commercial, and passenger transportation purposes.

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