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120 years: The world's first successful motor-powered flight

Authored by Alice Broome
Published on 17th December, 2023 2 min read

120 years: The world's first successful motor-powered flight

Today (17/12/2023) marks 120 years since the world's first successful motor-powered flight. 

Wilbur and Orville Wright, more commonly referred to as the Wright Brothers, began their research and development programme for their aircraft in 1899.[1] It took them four years to complete their aircraft, the Wright Flyer. On 17 December 1903, four miles south of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, Orville Wright completed the first successful motor-powered flight— it lasted a mere 12 seconds. 

Despite revolutionising modern transport, this flight did not cause much commotion at the time. The Dayton Journal refused to publish a story on the flight, asserting that it was too short to be of any importance. Instead, the Wright brothers published their own statement in January 1904. This was largely ignored, apart from in Paris, where members of the Aero Club of France took inspiration from the flight and doubled down on their efforts to produce their own motor-operated aircraft.

It has since been demonstrated that the success of the Wright Flyer was largely down to the piloting skills of its creators. On the 100th anniversary of the flight in 2003, Kevin Kochersberger attempted to fly an exact replica of the Wright Flyer. He failed to get the aircraft off of the ground. The reenactment highlighted the extensive training and preparation that the Wright brothers undertook. In fact, they conducted four flights on 17 December 1903. Their longest flight on that day was piloted by Wilbur and lasted 59 seconds.

Of course, aviation technology has come on leaps and bounds since the first motor-operated flight 120 years ago. But all of this progress has been made possible due to the dedication of the innovative Wright brothers.

[1] “1903 Wright Flyer”, National Air and Space Museum, n.d., accessed 24 November 2023, available at,at%20Kitty%20Hawk%2C%20North%20Carolina

Authored by Alice Broome

Alice Broome

Alice Broome is an Editorial Assistant at British Online Archives. She is a Philosophy, Politics, and Economics graduate from the University of York.

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The British Online Archives Notable Days diary is a platform intended to mark key dates and events throughout the year. The posts draw attention to historical events and figures, as well as recurring cultural traditions and international awareness days, in both religious and secular contexts.

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