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The First X Plane: Wright Model R

The speedy flyer, nicknamed Baby Grand, was early aviation science in action.

wright model r
The Wright Brothers’ Baby Grand shows how aware the brothers were of their designs’ shortcomings.
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From the 1940s to the 1960s, the headlines were full of the exploits of the test pilots and the famous X planes. From the Bell X-1 and the North American X-15 to the North American XB 70, these planes were designed to fly faster, higher and farther. And their pilots—Chuck Yeager, Scott Crossfield, Neil Armstrong—became household names. The same could be said of the air racers of the 1930s—Roscoe Turner, Jimmy Doolittle, Louise Thaden—and their magnificent machines, such as the Gee Bee R1 and the Travel Air Mystery Ship. Yet this lust for speed, altitude, distance and heroes did not start here. In 1909, just six short years after their first flight, the Wright Brothers created what was arguably the first X plane, the Wright Model R Baby Grand.

Six years after Kitty Hawk, the Wright brothers began producing their first commercial aircraft. The Wright Model B was a civil version of the original Wright Flyer. It carried both pilot and passenger, retained wing-warping as its primary control, and was powered by a 30-horsepower four-cylinder Wright engine. The Model B measured an ample 39 feet by 29 feet by 8 feet tall.

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