The First Breakdown

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Did you know that today is the 117th anniversary of the first breakdown in aviation history? To mark the occasion we are announcing a $50 price reduction in our SavvyBreakdown service!

On December 14th 1903, the Wright Brothers made their first attempt at powered flight, at Kitty Hawk, NC.  It would have been a day sooner, but they had promised their dad they would not fly on the Sabbath, so waited until Monday the 14th. 

Wilbur won a coin toss to determine which brother would make the first attempt. But he underestimated the sensitivity of the elevator.  Forty feet down the rail, the Flyer lurched up, stalled, and smashed into the sand.  The plane “flew” only for 3.5 seconds and the heavy landing damaged the forward elevator.

Wilbur Wright after his December 14th flight attempt, colorized by Jared Enos

Wilbur described the events of the day in a letter to his family back home in Dayton, OH:

“We gave machine first trial today with only partial success. We took to the hill and after tossing for the first whack, which I won, got ready for the start. The wind was a little to one side and the track was not exactly straight down hill, which caused the start to be more difficult than it otherwise would have been.  However, the real trouble was an error in judgment in turning up too suddenly after leaving the track, and as the machine had barely enough speed for support already, this slowed it down so much that before I could correct the error, the machine began to come down… it struck the ground while moving a little to one side.

A few sticks in the front rudder were broken which will take a day or two to repair probably… but for a trifling error due to lack of experience the machine would undoubtedly have flown beautifully. There is now no question of final success.”

Indeed! After repairing the damage, on December 17th 1903, Orville took his turn at the controls and managed to fly the Flyer for 12 seconds and a distance of around 120 ft. Later that same day Wilbur demonstrated true sustained, controlled flight with a 59 second flight that spanned 852 feet.

The Wright Brothers had no-one they could call for breakdown assistance. They were simultaneously the first aircraft manufacturers, the first pilots and the original “A&P’s”!

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