Posts Tagged ‘aviation’

Wright Flyer I

The Wright Brothers had their first successful flight on December 17, 1903. The flight lasted for 12 lousy seconds, but a machine that was heavier than air that they had built stayed under control off the ground. Whether they were actually the first or if their flight was even long enough to be valid, it is undeniable that they have had a massive impact on aviation and the world. They didn’t have to use space age polymers or special blend of fuels. Just ingenuity and hard work. They fabricated a gasoline engine in their bicycle shop and built the body out of a spruce tree. Pretty cool.

It has always struck me as amusing just how worked up people can get over the right to say “first in flight.” I guess because it was such a monumental achievement at the time, we have lost sight of the wonder that must have accompanied it back then. Man had conquered the sky! Of course, this feeling didn’t emerge until a few years later since the Wright Brothers were generally considered to be hoaxsters around the world until a demonstration in France in 1908.

SR-71 Blackbird

I had a friend from New Zealand who claimed a countryman had been the first to fly. Ohio and North Carolina both try to take credit for the Wright Brothers. The first plane was developed in Dayton, Ohio, but actually flown in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. I’ve been to Wright Patterson Air Force Base, which is now home of the National Museum of the Air Force. One of the coolest things I saw there was a decomissioned SR-71 Blackbird, a supersonic spy plane. We weren’t supposed to touch it, but I wanted to so much (I was like 12 or 13) and my uncle just said to go ahead and do it. The worst that could happen is we’d be kicked out, right? But nothing happened, and it felt like slightly cool, smooth metal. It was great.

After the Wright brothers patented their invention, there were years of disputes over patent violations. Continued claims of being the first in flight sprang up. After their first little hop on this day in 1903, they maintained a high level of secrecy so that government-backed researchers, who were the big players in the game, couldn’t steal their ideas. They were just two guys who ran a bike shop and wanted to make money on it. I think that was the right thing to do. If they hadn’t been secret, they would have been squashed like bugs by the big guys. I think the real legacy of the Wright brothers should not be the controversy or the secrecy, but the fact that two dudes in a bike shop, tinkering with wood and engines, changed the world in 12 seconds.