“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.” – Leonardo da Vinci
Yesterday was the 111th anniversary of the Wright Brothers’ famous first flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Perilously powering along over the sand dunes of the Outer Banks, the first flight lasted a mere 12 seconds. Under Orville’s command, the Wright’s flying contraption made of wood and fabric covered only 120 feet.
The Flyer, as the machine came to be known, did not survive the day, as powerful winds flipped it over and causing severe damage. But history had been made and by the fourth flight, the brothers were staying aloft for almost a minute, while traversing a distance of over 850 feet.
Only five people witnessed these first flights and we’re lucky one had a camera to record arguably one of the most incredible moments of human history. The Wright Brothers had achieved the seemingly impossible: powered flight. I can only imagine what those witnesses were thinking; they must have been skeptical, possibly smirking upon glimpsing the “flying contraption” and muttering among themselves.
But maybe they were hoping the Brothers would be successful, and would be able to see man take to the skies. They could not have known what a monumental success the airplane would become. The same could be said for the Wright Brothers themselves, as Orville once claimed “no flying machine will ever fly from New York to Paris.” He was proven wrong a mere twenty years later, when Charles Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic in the Spirit of St. Louis.
Although the U.S. military was not initially interested in the Wright Brothers’ developments, the U.S. Army did an about-face after a presentation in Washington, D.C. It didn’t take long for military leaders to realize the practical implications of the newfound technology, and just a few short years later, airplanes were seeing combat action in the skies over Europe during the First World War.
Long before the century was over, we developed aircraft nearly invisible to radar, such as the Northrop-Grumman B-2A Spirit. Aircraft are now able to stay aloft almost indefinitely, thanks to the development of aerial refueling. We’ve obliterated the sound barrier, and flying faster than sound is now routine for our military aviators. We’ve designed and built massive airliners that are capable of hauling over 800 people halfway around the world.
We’ve put men and women not only into space, but on the moon, when literally a blip ago on the scope of human existence, Orville Wright was gazing up to the sky and looking “enviously on the birds soaring freely through space, at full speed, above all obstacles, on the infinite highway of the air.”
By now air travel has become almost second nature. It’s more often seen as a method of public transportation as opposed to a remarkable technological advancement. This time of year is one of the busiest for air travel, as millions will take to the air on their way for work, heading home after finals, or traveling to see distant family members.
It is my hope that at least some stop and dare to experience flight in the manner that Wilbur Wright described it: “The sensation is one of perfect peace mingled with an excitement that strains every nerve to the utmost, if you can conceive of such a combination.”