Test flown in the summer of 1902, the third glider built by the Wright Brothers is widely acknowledged by aviation historians to be the world’s first practical aircraft. Based on wind tunnel tests the Wrights had performed after the flights of their 1901 glider, improvements incorporated into the design of the 1902 glider included, most significantly, a simple vertical control surface – a rudder. The addition of the rudder helped the 1902 glider become the first aircraft to demonstrate fully controlled movement in all three axes of flight motion: pitch, roll, and yaw.
Their experiments were far more successful than those of the prior year. By the end of the summer, the 1902 glider held every world record for aircraft of its type, including distance flown (622 feet), time aloft (90 seconds) and most flights (over 700). This glider led directly to the first powered flights of the Wrights’ Flyer in December 1903, as well as the brothers’ subsequent development of aircraft between 1904 and 1908. The brothers began to realize that they could not only contribute to the advancement of aeronautics, but that inventing the airplane was within their grasp. During the train ride home that year, they thought of the possibility of powered flight.
The reproduction of the Wright 1902 glider in the Museum’s collection is the work of many people, but the primary team was made up of Mike Aten, Ben Barackman, Karen Hazel, and Scott Hazel, who worked from 2002 to 2003 with the financial assistance of the Museum. No drawings for the 1902 glider survived, so the team relied on period photographs taken by Orville Wright. Clear copies of the photographs were obtained, studied, and measured. Authentic materials and period processes were used throughout the construction. Many of the wooden parts on the glider were steam-formed. The team learned this long, ancient process through trial and error. The 1902 glider was donated to the Museum in December of 2003, and was the centerpiece of the activities to commemorate the 100th anniversary of powered flight.