Aviation history : Achieving the dream


There is a great saying credited to Otto Lilienthal: "It is easy to invent a flying machine; more difficult to build one; but to make it fly is everything." Lilienthal (1848-1896) spent most of his life to make a hang glider fly. But the story of the quest for flying now moves to the Ohio city of Dayton where the Wright brothers, Wilbur (1867-1912) and Orville (1871-1948), made bicycles, while devoting time to their hobby of building kites. The event of Lilienthal’s death on 10 August 1896 triggered the Wrights interest in solving the problem of flight. They decided to begin by conducting a systemic study of the subject in preparation for practical work. On 30 May 1899, Wilbur wrote to the Smithsonian Institution: "My observations have only convinced me more firmly that human flight is possible and practicable." and requested available information on aeronautical literature.



1 December 1978 -  Bophuthatswana – Presentation folder

75th Anniversary of first powered flight and 30th anniversary of ICAO

Wright Flyer I - Orville and Wilbur Wright

The Wright brothers began their own research and started correspondence with renowned pioneer Octave Chanute who kept them informed about work of others and advised them on many aspects of their research. In a letter to Chanute, Wilbur Wright reveals on 13 May 1900 for the first time in writing his vision, aeronautical principles and plans to develop a machine that man can fly; he wrote: "For some years I have been afflicted with the belief that flight is possible to man. My general ideas of the subject are similar to those held by most practical experimenters, to wit: that what is chiefly needed is skill rather than machinery." In October 1900, they tested their first 17-foot-span glider on the beaches of Kitty Hawk, North Caroline, where the winds were strong and steady.


The tests with a second glider in 1901 proved disappointing. Wilbur Wright was deeply discouraged after numerous disappointing full-scale glider tests; he said to his brother, Orville, "Nobody will fly for a thousand years!" Nevertheless, he and Orville persevered and overcame their own skepticism. They designed a more sophisticated wind tunnel for gauging the lifting capacity of model wings. By September 1902, they were back with their third glider, and achieved great success. The secret of the Wright brothers’ final success laid in their having perfected a control system before they turned to a construction of a powered heavier-than-air craft.


As the Wright brothers had devised a system of control, they had now to obtain an engine and build the airframe in which to put it. They were aided in their engine project by the fine craftsmanship of mechanic Charles E. Taylor, already working for them since 1901. While the engine was being built, they worked on the propeller design, the problem being however much more complex than anticipated. The Wrights had discovered or refined all of the essentials of human flight; the airplane was taken to Kitty Hawk where it was assembled. After some problems with the aircraft which had to be repaired, everything was ready by 14 December 1903.


17 December 1903

The dream comes true.

Orville Wright makes the first manned, powered and controlled flight, as his brother Wilbur watches.

The brothers flipped a coin; Wilbur won and climbed into position. The aircraft lifted off only to stall and land heavily. By Thursday 17 December, the Wrights were ready to try again. This time, it was Orville’s turn; in spite of a 27-mile wind, the aircraft began its 12-second flight that forever after changed the world; it was 10:35AM. Orville wrote later in December 1913: "This flight lasted only 12 seconds, but it was nevertheless the first in the history of the world in which a machine carrying a man had raised itself by its own power into the air in full flight, had sailed forward without reduction of speed, and had finally landed at a point as high as that from which it started." Three further flights were made on the same day. The world at large learned of the dawn of this momentous age; on 5 January 1904, the Wrights corrected some misinformation that appeared in the newspapers, but disclosed nothing about their aircraft which they called now Flyer. They said that "It was their own invention, developed at their own expenses." The aircraft is often retrospectively referred to as the Wright Flyer I.


The Wright Flyer III was the third powered aircraft built by the Wright brothers. Orville Wright first flew the original Flyer III on 23 June 1905. The pilot is still in a prone position which would not be changed by the brothers until 1908 to test new controls and also the carrying abilities of the aircraft.


Wright Brothers Day is celebrated in the United States on 17 December each year. The date commemorates the Wright brothers' first successful flight in heavier-than-air, mechanically propelled craft, accomplished on 17 December 1903, near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina; the US President annually makes a proclamation inviting Americans to observe Wright Brothers Day with appropriate ceremonies and activities.


Pan American Aviation Day is annually observed in the United States on 17 December. The President may issue each year a proclamation calling on all officials of the United States Government, the chief executive offices of the States, territories, and possessions of the United States, and all citizens to participate in the observance of Pan American Aviation Day to further, and stimulate interest in, aviation in the American countries as an important stimulus to the further development of more rapid communications and a cultural development between the countries of the Western Hemisphere. It is observed on the same day as the Wright Brothers Day and must not be confused with National Aviation Day.


The National Aviation Day (19 August) is a US national observation that celebrates the development of aviation. The holiday was established in 1939 by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who issued a presidential proclamation which designated the anniversary of Orville Wright's birthday (born on 19 August 1871 in Dayton, Ohio) to be National Aviation Day. The US President’ proclamation may annually direct all federal buildings and installations to fly the US flag on that day, and may encourage citizens to observe the day with activities that promote interest in aviation.


The year 1978 marked the 75th anniversary of the first powered flight. ICAO celebrated its 30th anniversary on 4 April 1977. On their stamp issues, several countries simultaneously noted the 75th anniversary of the first powered flight and the 30th anniversary of ICAO.


Wilbur Wright once said: “From the time we were children, my brother and myself lived together, played together, worked together and, in fact thought together.” Inspired by the Wright Brothers’ feat, many books, films, clips, websites, etc. have celebrated the genius of those who first made a controlled and sustained flight in a power-driven, heavier-than-air craft. History of flight can be integrated very well in the general history of humanity and is a very good example of interdisciplinary learning; flying is one of the first human dreams and is present in one form or another in every time period, at every population.


12 December 1928 – USA

International Conference on Civil Aeronautics (12/12/28 to 14/12/28) and 25th Anniversary of Wright brothers’ first flight.

The central design shows the airplane (Wright Flyer I), in left profile, used by the Wright brothers in their first successful flight at Kitty Hawk, N.C., on 17 December 1903. The first image of the Wright’s biplane on a U.S. stamp appeared on this commemorative issue.



31 December 1977 - Somalia - 30th Anniversary of ICAO

Wright Flyer I and ICAO emblem.

13 June 1978 - Uruguay - 30th Anniversary of ICAO and 75th Anniversary of first engine‑powered flight of Wright brothers - Wright Flyer I




31 July 1978 – Comoros - 75th Anniversary of first engine‑powered flight of Wright brothers – International Civil Aviation Organization.

Overprinted with ICAO logo and the selvage showing sideways imprint with the Wright Flyer I aircraft, corresponding to one of the subjects of this issue.


23 October 1978 – Cyprus - Anniversaries and events 1978: 75th Anniversary of first powered flight.

Orville and Wilbur Wright and Wright Flyer I - ICAO emblem.

Hand-stamped control number.

First Day Card issued in limited numbers under the auspices of the Cyprus Philatelic Society.

The back side of the card is blank. Inset: picture of Orville (left) and Wilbur (right) Wright.




1 December 1978 -  Bophuthatswana

75th Anniversary of first powered flight by the Wright brothers and 30th anniversary of ICAO.

31 December 1978 – Egypt 

75th Anniversary of first engine‑powered flight and 30th anniversary of ICAO

Wright Flyer I and ICAO emblem



18 June 1979 – Uruguay - Anniversaries and Events: 75th Anniversary of first powered flight - 65th Anniversary of the Uruguayan air force (Fuerza Aérea Uruguaya).

Wilbur and Orville Wright and Wright Flyer I (picture and upper profile) - ICAO emblem

On the selvage, the designer of this stamp included the ICAO emblem, preceded by 1978 75o ANIVERSARIO DE ICAO - OACI.

Uruguay inadvertently confused the 75th anniversary of the Wright brothers’ triumph on 17 December 1903, with ICAO which, even today, has not yet reached such a milestone.



30 July 1979 - Belize - 100th Anniversary of Sir Rowland Hill death and 75th anniversary of the first powered flight

Wright Flyer I and ICAO emblem.

The designer of this stamp included the ICAO emblem, with the text: 75th ANNIVERSARY OF I.C.A.O.

Belize inadvertently confused the 75th anniversary of the Wright brothers’ triumph on 17 December 1903, with ICAO which, even today, has not yet reached such a milestone.


21 December 1979 - Sao Tome and Principe - Maximum card - 35th Anniversary of ICAO; history of aviation, powered flight. Wright Flyer I and ICAO emblem.


Libya 1984 – 4Oth Anniversary of ICAO. Maximum card with one stamp of the miniature sheet of 16 stamps, the background of the stamps forming an overall design of a runway.

The card shows one of the famous photographs ever taken: the Wright Flyer takes off on the world’s first successful airplane flight on 17 December 1903; Orville is at the controls, while Wilbur runs alongside.

See the miniature sheet at the following link: Libya – 40th Anniversary of ICAO.


28 February 1985 - Sierra Leone - 40th Anniversary of ICAO and aviator pioneers.

Wright brothers and Wright Flyer I – 40th Anniversary emblem.