May 22, 1906. On this date, two Ohio brothers – Wilbur and Orville Wright – received a patent for their heavier-than-air flying machine. Just three years before, the two bicycle mechanics had made the first bonafide, controlled, powered flight. The Wrights wrote in their patent that their airplane design:
… provide[s] means for guiding the machine both vertically and horizontally … combining lightness, strength, convenience of construction, and certain other advantages.
Were the Wright brothers always destined for the skies? It’s known that their father gave them a rubber-band-powered flying toy when they were still children. The toy was made of cork and bamboo, with a paper body.
By 1899 – when Wilbur was 33 years old and Orville was 28 – the brothers were already learning everything they could about the science of aeronautics and the history of attempted human flight. Their first airplane were gliders, which they tested on the long, isolated beaches of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. By 1902, they had built a glider that could be manned and controlled by a human pilot. It held a world record for gliding over 600 feet (nearly 200 meters).
Their first powered aircraft had a 40-foot (12-meter) wingspan, weighed 750 lbs, and had a 12-horsepower engine. The first powered flight – on December 17, 1903 – lasted just 12 seconds. The aircraft traveled 120 feet (36 meters). But that first flight above the sandy ground of Kitty Hawk marked the beginning of a new era of global travel and relatedness.
By the way, at the time they received their patent in 1906, several other aviators of the day claimed to have been the first to use the Wrights’ method of turning the airplane by warping or twisting the wings. But this part of the design, too, was included in the Wrights’ patent. In 2013, a story came to light about another would-be aviator, Gustave Whitehead, whose first flight supposedly beat the Wright brothers by two years. Thus far, that story has not been supported and is not accepted by avaiation scholars.
Bottom line: On May 22, 1906, Orville and Wilbur Wright received a patent for the first powered aircraft.