The 1903 Wright Flyer was the product of a comprehensive four-year program of research and development conducted by Wilbur and Orville Wright beginning in 1899, when they flew a five-foot wingspan glider as a kite with movable control surfaces. They then built and tested progressively larger and more sophisticated full-size gliders over each of the following three years, culminating in their 1902 glider with which they discovered the elusive solution to aircraft instability with a three-axis control system. The Wrights built their first powered airplane, the Wright Flyer, in 1903, and on December 17, at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, achieved the first flight of a piloted, controlled, powered, heavier-than-air machine to attain sustained flight.
The first flight was 12 seconds in duration, traveling 36 m (120 ft.), with Orville piloting. There were three other flights made on that day; the last, with Wilbur at the controls, covered 255.6 m (852 ft.) in 59 seconds. During the design and construction of their experimental aircraft they pioneered many of the basic tenets and techniques of modern aeronautical research, such as the use of a wind tunnel and flight testing as design tools. Their dedicated and disciplined experiments accomplished not only the breakthrough of the first flight of an airplane, but they also refined the process of aeronautical engineering.