Friday, November 9, 2007

From Kill Devil Hills to the Edge of Space

The icy gusts from the Nor-Easter churning off-shore lashed the dunes, kicking sand into the brothers' faces, as they guided their fragile craft onto the 60-foot rail.

The line of black clouds cast an ominous pall over the frigid scene, ice forming in puddles left by a driving rain the night before.

Their hands froze in the bitter air, as they completed their task. Finally, the odd-looking machine was in position.

With the flip of a coin, three days earlier, the older brother had won the honor of making the first attempt.

It was unsuccessful.

Now, it was the younger's turn. His diary describes what happened next:

"After running the engine and propellers a few minutes to get them in working order, I got on the machine at 10:35 for the first trial. The wind, according to our anemometers at this time, was blowing a little over 20 miles (corrected) 27 miles according to the Government anemometer at Kitty Hawk. On slipping the rope the machine started off increasing in speed to probably 7 or 8 miles. The machine lifted from the truck just as it was entering on the fourth rail. Mr. Daniels took a picture just as it left the tracks."

Orville Wright had flown into history.

The 17th of next month will be the 104th Anniversary of the Wright Brothers' famous first flight. If you've never been to Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills, The Flying Curmudgeon highly recommends a visit.

TFC recalls a trip made with his family as a child, and how desolate and beautiful the location seemed even then. How much more so it must have seemed to the Wright Brothers when they first gazed upon it in 1900?

Searching for a place to put their experiments in "heavier-than-air" flight to the test, they found it at Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills. With its consistent winds, soft sand, and remote location, the brothers had found the perfect place to continue their tests away from prying eyes.

Now, a little more than 100 years later, The Flying Curmudgeon sometimes wonders if they could fathom how far we have come from such humble beginnings.

From that first, twelve-second flight, Man has pushed the very boundaries of space, and accomplished feats of aviation that Orville and Wilbur could only dream of.

Standing on that beach, watching his little brother struggle into the air, could Wilbur have imagined a Boeing 747 taking off to fly half-way around the world, an F-15 effortlessly breaking the sound barrier, or the Space Shuttle riding piggyback into orbit, on a giant ball of flame?

Could he have imagined the next generation of commercial air travel, when passengers fly at hypersonic speeds, at the edge of space?

If he could have, The Flying Curmudgeon believes he would have wanted to be at the controls.

Orville would have flipped him for it.


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