I heard a joke once that said "Y'know the Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C.? They actually have stuff in there!" Case-in-point, the 1903 Wright Flyer. Many reproductions of the Wright Flyer have been made, but this is the actual airplane built and flown by the Wright brothers in 1903. Only the fabric covering was replaced in 1927, and again in 1985 by the Smithsonian Museum.
The Wright Flyer made four flights at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on December 17, 1903, the best (with Wilbur piloting) covering 852 feet in 59 seconds. It was the first heavier-than-air powered aircraft to make a sustained controlled flight with a pilot aboard.
Above is the enduring image of the first flight at Kitty Hawk which captured the "moment of invention" for all time. The photo was taken the instant Orville lifted the Flyer into the air for the first time with Wilbur looking on. It is among the most famous photographs even taken.
How was this image captured? Orville positioned his camera so that it was aimed toward the end of the launching rail. He instructed local lifesaving crewmen John T. Daniels to snap the shutter as the airplane left the rail. It so happens that this was the first time Daniels had ever operated a camera.
To build the Flyer, the Wrights used their proven canard biplane configuration, which was rooted in their initial 1899 kite design. The key to the Flyer's success was its three-axis control system, which featured wing-warping for lateral balance, a moveable rudder, and an elevator for pitch control. The right wing was four inches longer the the left to compensate for the engine being heavier than and mounted to the right of the pilot. The wings were rigged with a slight droop to reduce the effect of crosswinds.
Canard biplane with one 12-horsepower Wright horizontal four-cylinder engine driving two pusher propellers via sprocket-and-chain transmission system. No wheels; skids for landing gear. Natural fabric finish; no sealant or paint of any kind.
Fabric Covering: Muslin
Engine Crankcase: Aluminum
Wingspan: 12.3 m (40 ft 4 in)
Length: 6.4 m (21 ft 1 jn)
Height: 2.8 m (9 ft 4 in)
Weight: Empty, 274 kg (605 lb)
Gross, 341 kg (750 lb)
While the Wright brothers had abandoned their other gliders, they realized the historical significance of the Flyer. So, after they were finished with the Flyer, it was stored, and eventually found its way to the Smithsonian.
The Wrights' original concept of simultaneous coordinated roll and yaw control (rear rudder deflection), which they discovered in 1902, perfected in 1903–1905, and patented in 1906, represents the solution to controlled flight and is used today on virtually every fixed-wing aircraft. The Wright patent included the use of hinged rather than warped surfaces for the forward elevator and rear rudder. Such was the influence of the Flyer.