The Wright Brothers had requested light engines, but the only one they received was too heavy; once again Wilbur and Orville had to solve a problem on their own without much experience. Thankfully for the Wright Brothers, they had Charlie Taylor in their employ, who was a brilliant mechanic. Without any experience with gasoline engines, Taylor built a four cylinder motor (4 inch bore, 4 inch stroke) that was designed to deliver 8 horsepower, weigh no more than 200 pounds, and carry 675 pounds. The engine that Taylor built only weighed 152 pounds due to the cast aluminum engine block; the first engine's block cracked, but that turned out to be a blessing in that Taylor's second engine delivered 12 horsepower.
Making the propellers with the proper diameter, pitch and surface area didn't cause that many problems. Each propeller was totally unique, crafted by hand, 8 feet in diameter and made of 3 spruce laminations glued together. The flying machine would be on skids with the operator (pilot) prone in the middle of the lower wing. The motor and the radiator were positioned beside the pilot on the right, with the one gallon gas tank located in the upper left relative to the operator.
On 14 July 1903, news came that Samuel Pierpont Langley was to test his "latest contrivance" near Quantico in Virginia. Langley's "Great Aerodrome" was a "full-fledged airship", motor-powered, and to that point had cost $50,000 in public funds from the Smithsonian Institute and the War Department (others, including Alexander Graham Bell, and Langley himself, contributed an additional $20,000). There were reporters aplenty, as well as many regular citizens, on the shores and hills alongside the Potomac, and they couldn't miss seeing something with wings on top of a big houseboat in the river. On 8 August 1903, after some bad weather, Langley conducted a test flight, not with his "Great Aerodrome", but with an unmanned quarter-scale replica. The smaller aircraft was launched from the houseboat and traveled 1000 feet before crashing in the Potomac. (Pictured above: Langley's "Great Aerodrome" on top of the houseboat in the Potomac River)
On 7 October 1903, Langley's "Great Aerodrome", with a wingspan of 48 feet and a pilot, launched from the houseboat on the Potomac, and dove straight into the river (the pilot was not injured). When the Wright Brothers were informed of Langley's failure, they felt that it was now their turn. Delaying the Wright Brothers further was their engine: it wasn't until November that the Wright Brothers were able to fine-tune their motor to run with minimal vibration. The Wright Brothers flyer would be launched on a single wooden track 60 feet long, which cost a total of $4. Newer propeller shafts arrived, made of larger and heavier steel tubing courtesy of Charlie Taylor, who remained in Dayton, but the propellers cracked during indoor tests . . . Orville left for Dayton to help Taylor with the replacement propellers.
Orville returned to Kitty Hawk on 11 December 1903, and it took an additional three days for the Wright Brothers to get ready for their first attempt at flight. On 14 December 1903, the 605 pound flyer was hauled to the Big Hill where the launching track was located. By flipping a coin, it was decided that Wilbur would be the pilot. As the flyer reached the end of the wooden track, Wilbur pulled too hard on the rudder, and flew up at too steep an angle. Compensating, Wilbur turned the nose of the flyer downward, and the machine hit the sand a hundred feet from the track . . . and the Wright Brothers were ELATED! Their motor, launching track, et al had proven reliable, and the damage to the flyer was minor.
It was Orville's turn to fly, but before the attempt was made, they made sure that their glass plate camera, with a quick shutter, was also ready to go. At 10:35 am, the flyer started down the track, and lifted into the air, and a photograph was taken. The flight was extremely erratic, and the plane dipped up and down, bouncing like a bronco. The second flight covered a distance of 120 feet in 12 seconds, and everyone went inside to warm up again. At 11 am, Wilbur piloted the third flight, flying for 175 feet; then Orville flew for 200 feet, and near noon, Wilbur flew a little over half-a-mile, 852 feet in 59 seconds. Four years of hard work, great resolve, patience, traveling, and problem-solving culminated in a fifth flight that lasted just under one minute . . . four years for 59 seconds - for the Wright Brothers, it was more-than-worth it!
The Langley "Aerodrome" project had cost a total of $70,000 ($1.82 million today), mostly from public funds, while the Wright Brothers spent less than $1000 ($25k today), entirely from the profits of their bicycle business. The Wright Brothers were excited, but they also knew that there was so much work ahead in order to do better, and they would need to construct a brand-new flying machine. News of the Wright Brothers' success was either ignored or wildly exaggerated (e.g. flying for 3 miles) . . . maybe 1 in 1000 citizens in Dayton believed that the Wright Brothers actually succeeded in flying their airplane, and those that did thought the flights were a fluke . . .