On December 17, 1903 Orville and Wilbur Wright changed life as the world knew it. On a sandy beach of the Outer Banks of North Carolina, Orville, dressed in coat and tie, left earth’s gravity and flew the first airplane, keeping it aloft for twelve seconds for a distance of 120 feet. The brothers proved that a manned, heavier-than-air, machine could leave the ground under its own power, fly through the air, and land on a point as high as that from which it started.
Three more times that day they took turns flying their aircraft. The second attempt lasted, again, twelve seconds but went 175 feet. The third lasted fifteen seconds but went 200 feet, and the fourth attempt on December 17th lasted fifty-nine seconds and landed 852 feet from where it had begun.
Since then, airplanes have provided transportation to distant places, dropped bombs in wars, broken the sound barrier, and, with a few adjustments, landed men on the moon. What have you done in the last twelve seconds that made such a difference to humanity?
Last weekend, after bringing his dad and me home from a cruise ship, Bill and Cyndi made a detour and took us to Kitty Hawk, NC. I’d wanted to see Kitty Hawk since I moved to this state and was thrilled to know I would finally get there. When we parked the car, we saw a big open field with a monument on a high mound. The Wright Brothers 60-foot white monument atop Kill Devil Hill marks the site of the hundreds of glider flights that preceded the first powered flight.
In another area, a rail spanned a length of maybe fifty feet along the ground. The plane rode the rail with Wilbur steadying the wings until it was airborne. At the end of the rail sits a life-size replica of the first plane, made of bronze and steel and weighing ten thousand pounds. Lying on his stomach on the bottom wing is a statue of Orville manning the controls. In back of the plane stands Wilbur, his arms outstretched having just released the plane’s wings from his grasp. Behind them, is the statue of photographer John Daniels ready to take a picture with his camera affixed to a tripod. Three other men stand by for eternity, witnessing the first airplane flight.
I felt as though I, too, were a witness to that historic occasion as I stood with John Daniels and Wilbur and watched Orville prepare to take control of the sky.
Granted, there were years of preparation that took place before that first moment in 1903, but the actual flight that proved it could be done, took twelve seconds. And changed the world forever.
Quote of the Day: “They have done it! Damned if they ain’t flew!” Witness to the first flight.