They called Dayton, Ohio home and used the wind-shaped dunes of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina as a lift off point. Both places were testing grounds, temporary assignments. For it was the unopened blue that beckoned them skyward and homeward. On December 17th, 1903, the Wilbur and Orville Wright stuck their first—and the world’s first—successful flight in a heavier-than-air, mechanically controlled machine. Twelve seconds in the air turned into over 100 years of aviation progress.
Those sibling inventors behind the defining technology of the last century are the subject of a National Park Service handbook entitled “First Flight, The Wright Brothers and the Invention of the Airplane.” In his forward, astronaut and former U.S. Senator John Glenn defers to the duo as the “first astronauts. Their initial short flight opened our quest to reach beyond the world we know. They were the first test pilots.”
In ‘First Flight’, noted Wright biographer Tom D. Crouch recounts their bicycle shop beginnings, hometown life, and aeronautical experimentations. Full page maps and fold-outs tell of the history, visionaries, and mechanics of flight. Pull-out quotes decorate the margins, lending a first person feel to Wilbur & Orville’s story.
Eye witnesses thought the pair were foolhardy—a few spokes short of a wheel. Kitty Hawk resident Millie Daniels said, “A lot of folks thought the Wrights were a little touched, you know…they would imitate the way birds flew…turn their arms like wings and run through the dunes while watching the gulls.” The birdie brothers weathered the pitch-and-roll of small gains and minor setbacks. In search of strong headwinds to propel their glider, they eventually moved their production from Ohio to the sand flats of the Outer Banks.
Pitched in tents battered by bitter nor’easters, the Wrights set out to beta test the product of their scientific inquiries. Several seasons of experiments led to design changes that led to repairs that led to reattempts. Finally, on a cold morning of perfect conditions, sustained human flight was achieved. On his first glide into the air, Orville remarked, “It was only a flight of twelve seconds, and it was uncertain, wavy, creeping sort of flight at best; but it was a real flight at last…”
A foolhardy flying machine became a phenomena of human achievement. The Wright Brothers made their home above the world and consequently changed the world.
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About the author: Our guest blogger is Chelsea Milko, Public Relations Specialist in GPO’s Public Relations Office.