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Happy 100th Birthday, Airplane!


  • Language Arts
  • Computers


  • 3-5
  • 6-8

Brief Description

A cyber scavenger hunt plus additional activities for recognizing the anniversary of the Wright brothers' historic flight of December 17, 1903.


Students will

  • develop computer skills by researching facts about the Wright brothers' on the Internet.
  • list ways the boyhood activities of the Wright brothers influenced their futures.
  • use primary documents such as the diary entries to write a first-person account of what it was like to fly that historic day.


Wright brothers, airplane, flight

Materials Needed

  • computer access

The Lesson

This lesson includes an Internet scavenger hunt that reveals many facts about the Wright brothers' historic flight. It offers a handful of additional activities, including a brief read-aloud story about the importance of the brothers' mother in their lives and instructions for creating a Styrofoam® Wright Flyer.

Internet Scavenger Hunt
Create a work sheet or center activity in which students investigate the Web sites and answer the following questions.

Teachers might provide a hotlist of the sites, by typing the sites' URLs into a Word document. That way, students can access the sites more easily; all they need to do is click on the links (instead of typing them into a browser window.)
  1. What gift did Wilbur Wright and his younger brother, Orville, receive from their father that fascinated them with the idea of flight?
    What business did the brothers run before getting involved with building airplanes?
    Find the answers at http://www.time.com/time/time100/

    Answers: The gift was a flying toy made of cork and bamboo that was powered by rubber bands. Their first business was a bicycle shop. (Before that, they ran a printing business.)
  2. Which brother was the first to fly?
    According to the brothers, what was the main problem they faced that historic day?
    What happened to their plane after they flew that day?
    Find the answers at
    Answers: Orville was the first to fly. Wind was the biggest problem they faced that day. Wind tumbled the plane, and it was destroyed.
  3. At what time did the first of the day's four flights occur?
    How long did that original flight last and what distance did it complete?
    Find the answers at https://www.nps.gov/parkoftheweek/wrbr.htm
    Answers: The first flight occurred at 10:35 a.m. It lasted 12 seconds and the plane traveled 120 feet.
  4. What were the three elements of flight that the Wright Flyer mastered?
    What observations helped the brothers learn about flying?
    Find the answers at http://www.pbs.org/kcet/chasingthesun

    Answers: The three elements were lift, propulsion, and self-control. The brothers observed the twisting action of birds' wings.
  5. Who was the commissioner who approved the Wrights' patent application and what was the name of their invention?
    Find the answers at http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/

    Answers: F.I. Allen approved the patent application for the brothers' "flying machine."
  6. In what position did the brothers fly their plane?
    Find the answers at https://airandspace.si.edu/galleries/gal100/wright1903.html
    Answers: They flew the plane lying down, with the head forward, and left hand holding the controls.
  7. The Wright brothers never said they were the first to fly. Which Englishman might have tried it before they did?
    What did the brother's claim about their flight?
    Find the answers at http://www.wright-brothers.org/History_Wing/History_of_the_Airplane/Who_Was_First/Who_Was_First_Intro/Who_Was_First_Intro.htm
    Answers: Hiram Maxim tried, but his plane crashed. The brothers claimed they were the first to complete a controlled and sustained powered flight.
  8. Other than the Wright brothers, how many people were present for the historic flight?
    What were two reasons more people didn't turn out at Kitty Hawk that morning?
    Who was the first person the brothers contacted after their success that day?
    Find the answers at https://www.fi.edu/flights/first/after.html
    Answers: Five other people were present to witness the historic flight. More people did not show up because it was so cold that day, and because they didn't think it would work. The first person they contacted was their father.

Cool Facts

  • An offer to sell the Wright Brothers' airplane plan to the U.S. Army was turned down in 1905.
  • Most people thought the airplane had no purpose for transportation; it was simply a dangerous sport.
  • Most papers refused to print the press release of the Wright brothers' historic flight; only three U.S. papers carried the story. Most others believed flight was not possible and that the reports were a hoax.
  • Every piece of the wrecked 1903 Flyer was collected by the brothers, packed into crates, and stored in their bicycle shop. The Flyer eventually was reconstructed and placed in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.
  • In 1908, Wilbur showed off the planes' abilities in France while Orville did a demonstration for the U.S. Army near Washington, D.C. People were beginning to believe that man could actually fly!
  • The distance covered by the 1903 Wright Flyer was less than the wingspan of today's 747 jumbo jet!

Cool Web Sites

Read-Aloud Story: What Mother Said...
by Gail Skroback Hennessey

    Young brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright were lucky to have a mother like Susan Wright. Whether it was helping them build things, encouraging their imaginations, or believing they could achieve any of their dreams, the boys learned much from what "Mother said."

    A picnic along the banks of a river near Dayton, Ohio, gave the boys an early lesson about flight. Wilbur noticed a bird flying down to the water's surface to catch a fish. Fascinated by the bird, Wilbur asked his mother to explain how a bird flies. Susan told him how a bird uses the currents of air and its wings to fly. She told him how wind pushes up and down and forward and backward. When Wilbur said he'd like to make wings to fly, mother smiled and said that maybe he would one day.

    Mama taught another lesson about wind when young Wilbur was almost knocked down by gusting winds as he walked to the barn for some firewood. Susan told him to bend forward a bit and stay low to the ground. Trying this on his second trip to the barn showed how correct Mother had been. Later, when building a sled, Orville and Wilbur remembered the importance of keeping it low to the ground so the wind wouldn't slow it down -- and it worked!

    The boys were always working on some project -- and their mother offered them valuable advice. She emphasized the importance of having a plan or pattern: "If you get it right on paper, it will be right when you build it. Always remember that." While building a wagon, Mother also told them that greasing the wheels prevented friction and made the wheels move better.

    Mother always believed in her boys, no matter how foolish their ideas might have seemed to others. A guest at the Wright home was shocked to see all the boys' projects scattered over the dining room table. She also noticed a pan of melting glue on the kitchen stove right next to where dinner was cooking. She commented that the boys shouldn't be allowed to do such things. Susan politely explained that the house belonged to the boys, too, and she never wanted to discourage their thinking. She didn't want their young minds to lose interest in any of their ideas, no matter how silly they might seem to an adult.

    When, at age 13, Orville got frustrated that he was out of ideas, Mother reminded him that he could not make himself invent something. She told him to always look out for ideas, and listen to all around him, because ideas would eventually come to him.

    How fortunate young Wilbur and Orville were to have a mother who believed in their dreams and that they listened to what she told them!

Wilbur and Orville Wright by Augusta Stevenson (Bobb-Merrill Company, 1959)
The Wright Brothers by Quentin Reynolds (Random House, 1950)
American Heroes of Exploration and Flight by Anne Schraff (Enslow Publishers, 1996)
To Fly, The Story of the Wright Brothers by Wendie Old (Clarion Books, 2002)

More Activities

  • Read a myth about early flight. Daedalus and his son, Icarus, were locked up in a tower by a king. What did Daedalus use to make wings to escape? What warning did he give his son about flying, and what happened to his son?

    Answers: Daedalus made wings of wax and bird feathers. He warned Icarus not to fly too close to the sun. Icarus's wings melted and he drowned in the ocean.
  • Pretend you are Orville and Wilbur and write a journal about your experience flying the Wright Flyer on December 17, 1903.
  • Draw a picture of the Wright Flyer. Write five facts you learned about the Wright brothers' airplane. Draw an arrow from each fact to the part of the picture to which the fact relates.
  • Leonardo da Vinci sketched flying machines in his notebook in the 14th century. What did he call is early flying machine? What other flying device did he sketch?
    Find the answer at http://www.aryana.co.uk/webdesign/

    Answers: He called his machine an ornithopter. He also sketched a parachute.
  • Design the spacecraft of the future.
  • Make a Styrofoam® Wright flyer !


Check students' scavenger hunt responses. Challenge students to write four things they learned about the Wright Brothers' historic flight.

Submitted By

Gail Hennessey, GailHennessey.com and Harpursville (New York) Central School

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Originally published 12/05/2003
Last updated 11/10/2010