Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Dancing on Laughter Silvered Wings
Today is the 105th anniversary of Orville and Wilbur's first flight off the dunes of Kitty Hawk, N.C. And as much as things have changed aviation-wise -- flying is no longer a big deal and we have been to the moon -- they also stay the same.
Here's the lede from the NYT's story about the brothers' flight:
"WASHINGTON, Dec. 25 -- The inventors of the airship which is said to have made several successful flights in North Carolina, near Kitty Hawk, are anxious to sell the use of their device to the Government. They claim that they have solved the problem of aerial navigation, and have never made a failure of any attempt to fly."
The first thing that jumps out at me is as soon as man manages to lift his ass a measly 10 feet off the ground, the first idea in his mind is to sell the gadget to the feds. Like most defense contractors the brothers were probably praying to god they could recoup their R&D costs. The second is the straight up lie in the second sentence, they "never made a failure of any attempt to fly."
The reason the first flight was on Dec. 17 is because the brothers had spent the previous three days fixing their plane after Wilbur, who'd won a coin toss, crashed it during their first attempt at powered flight on Dec. 14th. Also, at the end of the fourth flight of the day, an 852-foot, 59-second journey, Wilbur, again, crashed further damaging the aircraft.
Adding insult to injury, the Flyer was damaged further when it was flipped several times by gusts of wind later that day. It never flew again. Unfortunately, while inventing the airplane the brothers forgot to invent the tie-down strap.
Of course, reading the sentence closer "never made a failure of any attempt to fly" could be read as "we always got some useful data out of each of our attempts to fly even if we did crash and mess up our fragile spruce plane."
All of that aside, one of my favorite childhood memories was going to the North Carolina shore with my family each year. I still remember walking along the Outer Banks as a boy (never OBX, thank god those stupid stickers are finally disappearing), feeling the wind in my face wondering if it was the same for the brothers.
Two bicycle mechanics from Dayton, Ohio, who thought "Hey, wouldn't it be cool to fly?" changed the face of the world as we know it. Is it still possible to do this today? What questions are left out there asking to be answered? Can the world still change in a moment of discovery?