Image: Huffman Prairie
David Kohl  /  AP
A sign commemorates the Wright brothers' test flights at Huffman Prairie at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, near Dayton, Ohio.
updated 10/3/2005 2:13:26 PM ET 2005-10-03T18:13:26

When Wilbur Wright soared into the sky over Huffman Prairie on Oct. 5, 1905, it was pretty much a private showing. Only a few friends and some local farmers witnessed the historic event.

Thirty-nine minutes and 24 miles later — when Wilbur landed after running out of fuel — the Wrights had made their longest flight. Wilbur and his brother, Orville, declared that they now had the world’s first practical airplane.

This week, the Wright brothers’ hometown will shine the spotlight on Huffman Prairie as the city celebrates the 100th anniversary of that flight.

Relatives of the Wright brothers as well as officials from the Air Force and National Park Service will attend the ceremonies, which will feature flyovers by a replica of the plane that made the historic flight.

From milestone to maneuverability
History books note that the Wright brothers’ actual first flight occurred Dec. 17, 1903, at Kill Devil Hills, a barren stretch of sand dunes a few miles south of Kitty Hawk, N.C. The brothers made four flights that day, the longest lasting 59 seconds.

But the Wrights couldn’t steer the plane or be assured it could land safely, so they returned home to Dayton and began working on a maneuverable, controllable aircraft.

When it came time to test the plane, they settled on Huffman Prairie, a seven-sided, 84-acre (34-hectare) pasture outside Dayton owned by a family friend. The brothers were told they could use the field as long as they first moved the horses and cows out of the way.

It was at Huffman Prairie that the Wrights tested modifications to their airplane and taught themselves to fly.

In 1904, the brothers made 105 flights and were in the sky a total of 45 minutes. They made their first turn Sept. 15, 1904, and their first circle five days later. The following year, they made 50 flights and were in the sky 5 hours, 30 minutes.

Excitement in the air
Among the few people who witnessed the flights was Amos Ives Root, a Medina man who befriended the Wrights by offering to assist them in transporting equipment and assuring them that he had no commercial interest in their invention. His enthusiasm overflowed during one test flight.

“He got so excited he ran out on the field, and they had to land short because they thought they were going to run into him,” said Root’s great grandson, John Root.

On Oct. 4, 1905, the Wrights had the plane in the air for 32 minutes. The following day, they invited a few close friends to observe.

For 39 minutes, they watched Wilbur Wright do circles and figure-eights at an average speed of 38 miles an hour. The flight satisfied the Wrights that the plane could take off under its own power, be fully controlled and maneuvered, and could land safely.

“At the end of the flight, they declared that they had the world’s first practical airplane,” said Bob Petersen, a park ranger for the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park.

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