This is an animated computer drawing of the Wright
brothers' 1903 aircraft engine. This machine powered the first, heavier than
air, self-propelled, maneuverable, piloted aircraft; the Wright
flown at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in December, 1903.
for their aircraft, the brothers used twin, counter-rotating
at the rear of the aircraft. To turn the propellers, the
brothers designed and built a
gasoline poweredinternal combustion engine.
At the time of the brothers first flight,
most of their contemporaries did not
use gasoline powered internal combustion engines for flight.
Langley, Maxim and Ader had used steam power in their early designs.
Langley used a gasoline powered engine on his larger Aerodrome.
Herring had experimented with a compressed gas system.
But time has shown that the choice made by the brothers was the correct one.
Until the invention of the jet engine, nearly every aircraft was powered by
internal combustion engines.
The basic mechanical design of the Wright engine is remarkably similar to modern,
automobile engines. Obviously,
the brothers' design is much, much simpler than modern high performance engines,but it is an excellent
engine for students to study to learn the fundamentals of
Individual web pages for all of the major systems and
are provided so that
you can study each item in some detail.
Here's a Java program that you can use to look at the engine from a
variety of locations:
You can download your own copy of this applet by pushing the following button:
The program is downloaded in .zip format. You must save the file to disk and
then "Extract" the files. Click on
"Engine.html" to run the program off-line.
The 1903 engine was a
On the figure at the top of this page, we show
the single radiator feed hose at the bottom and twin radiator return hoses
on the top of the engine. In the Java
program we have removed the coolant lines for clarity. We have also tilted
the engine at an angle so that you can easily see features on both the upper and
lower surfaces of the engine. The large flywheel which is used to damp out vibrations
from the engine is seen at the back of the engine. Near the flywheel is the
which generates the electricity for the ignition system. The
four cylinders on the side of the engine are actually the
in which the fuel/air mixture is ignited. The intake valve springs
are visible at the top of the combustion chambers,
the exhaust valve springs are at the bottom.
The air intake and
are located on the top of the engine and
the fuel line runs from the air intake down the front of
the engine. The
and timing gear sprockets are also located on the front of the
engine. On the bottom of the engine one finds the
timing cams and cam shafts.
contains detailed information on the various parts and their functions.
The completed engine developed about 12 horsepower.
For comparison, a modern lawn mower
engine develops about 6 horsepower!
Here is a photo taken in the 1920's of a reproduction of the first engine.
The 1903 engine was damaged in a wind-related accident on December 17,1903.
It was returned to Dayton, Ohio, with the airframe and taken apart as the
brothers built a new engine for the
Only a few parts of the original engine and no complete plans exist today.
Like the airframe, the engine was designed and built by the brothers
in Dayton during the winter of 1902-1903 and the spring of 1903.
Unlike the airframe, the brothers had some help in the construction
of the engine.
Charles Taylor, a mechanic employed by the
brothers, produced many of the parts for the engine in the Wrights' bicycle shop.
The brothers built their own engine because they were unable
to purchase an engine which would meet their design goals for
weight (less than 200 pounds) and
horsepower (8-10 horsepower). There were many automobile manufacturers
who could have met their specifications,
but since the brothers were asking for only one engine to be produced, it was
not profitable for the larger companies.