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Monday, December 17, 2012

Today is the 109th anniversary of the Wright brothers' first flight at Kitty Hawk NC

For some years I have been afflicted with the belief that flight is possible to man. My disease has increased in severity and I feel that it will soon cost me an increased amount of money if not my life. I have been trying to arrange my affairs in such a way that I can devote my entire time for a few months to experiment in this field.
- Wilbur Wright (letter to Octave Chanute, 13 May 1900)

SUCCESS FOUR FLIGHTS THURSDAY MORNING ALL AGAINST TWENTY ONE MILE WIND STARTING FROM LEVEL WITH ENGINE POWER ALONE SPEED THROUGH AIR THIRTY ONE MILES LONGEST 57 SECOND* INFORM PRESS HOME CHRISTMAS
- Orville Wright (telegram to Milton Wright, 17 December 1903)

There are no signposts in the sky to show a man has passed that way before. There are no channels marked. The flier breaks each second into uncharted seas.
- Anne Morrow Lindbergh (1906-2001) (North to the Orient, Ch. 1)

Per aspera ad astra.
- familiar Latin tag, often used as a motto

(Through adversity to the stars.)

Today is the 109th anniversary of mankind's first powered flight, achieved at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina on 17 December 1903 by pioneer American aviators Wilbur and Orville Wright (1867-1912 and 1871-1948, respectively). The Wrights - Dayton, Ohio bicycle mechanics - become interested in aviation as an avocation and embarked on a systematic experimental program that eventually led to their extraordinary success - of which moveable wing parts and a lightweight engine were the key elements. However, the most striking aspect of this anniversary is how quickly the Wright Brothers' invention led to the air and space age. Man reached the moon only 66 years later - less than a human lifetime - and this remarkable acceleration of mankind's ability to achieve its most daunting goals is both exhilarating and frightening. Because satellites now do it so much better, French aviator and writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry** (1900-1944) seems almost naive for remarking in 1939 that

"The aeroplane has revealed to us the true face of the earth."

* N.B. Apparently, the actual time duration of that first flight was 59 seconds.

** A renowned flier, who described his experiences in vivid prose, Saint-Exupéry lost his life flying for the Free French in World War II. Surprisingly, his most famous book is the children's story, Le Petite Prince ("The Little Prince").

The famous photograph of the Wrights' first successful flight:

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