red tulips | copyright Jill J. Jensen

 

 

U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission

in honor of the Wright Brothers' achievement in powered flight

 

If you've never been in an airplane, you may not truly be able to appreciate the changes that have happened in our country and in our world as a result of the tinkering of two bicycle mechanics and their interest in getting their invention off the ground โ€” literally.

On the other hand, you may be in airports and airplanes so often, you don't even think about the improbability of plowing through an ocean of air in a giant aluminum tube. (Maybe you don't want to think about it....) Either way, the act of flying itself is remarkable and, as those who sought to re-create the equipment and the experience of controlled and powered flight have found out one hundred years later, the achievement is nothing short of miraculous.

The two bicycle mechanics from Ohio, Orville and Wilbur Wright, were the first to fly โ€” the first people to build a powered aircraft with steering gear that attempted to control the altitude and direction of the machine as it moved through the air.

2003 was the centennial commemoration of that first flight from a place commonly known as Kitty Hawk but noted as the landmark on North Carolina's outer banks at Kill Devil Hill, a site chosen for its persistent winds and relatively 'soft' landing area. December 17, 1903 was the official date of the Wright Brothers' success: 12 seconds in the air over 100 yards of sandy beach and dune.

Several groups and organizations noted the 100th anniversary, including one team that attempted for last three years to produce a replica of the Wright flying machine that would actually function and fly as the original. Over the time they were engaged in this project, their admiration for the Wright Brothers only grew, as they discovered how challenging the undertaking truly was for the time โ€” and even for today. They built the machine, and even took some trial runs. But their attempt to re-create the first flight from the dunes at Kitty Hawk on December 17, 2003 ended in a run down the launching rail and a plop into a mud puddle. Despite the sell-out audience, the cheering, and all the work to get to that point, the recreators were doomed by the rainy weather and lack of wind.

But that's no reason to despair. Aviation buffs and others have set up a number of websites devoted to the Wright Brothers and the story of their incredible achievement. In addition to the site from the official U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission, you can check out several others, including:

Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum exhibit
First Flight Centennial Foundation
Wright Brothers National Memorial (National Park Service)
Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company of Dayton, Ohio


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