Wright Brothers

This summer on our trip to Virginia and Washington, D.C., we were able to visit the White House, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and the new Air and Space Museum. We joined a line of thousands at the White House and moved through this historic house as attendants in each of the various rooms answered any question we cared to ask.
The Kennedy Center is a fabulous building located on the banks of the Potomac River right next to the Watergate apartment complex. The Center contains three large theatres separated by two tremendous halls. One, the Hall of Nations, features the flags of all nations. The other is a Hall of States with state flags from all fifty states.
The most impressive place that we visited was the Air and Space Museum on the Capitol Mall. Here you will find every kind of exhibit from the Wright brothers flimsy plane that made the first powered flight in 1903 to the strange capsule that took our astronauts to the moon.
One particular plane held my rapt attention as I stood there and thought back to the night of May 20th, 1927, here in Miami as I listened to a radio broadcast from Yankee Stadium in New York where the Maloney-Sharkey heavyweight fight was being staged. The announcer, before introducing the boxers, asked the 40,000 people there to stand and offer a silent prayer for a young man winging his solitary way across the wide Atlantic Ocean. The next day came the good news. The Lone Eagle had landed in Paris. His plane “The Spirit of St. Louis” is in this great museum.
Now let’s look back and dig up some history of how this flying business actually got off the ground. Man has always wanted to fly, to mount up with wings as the eagles, to soar up into the bright blue yonder. There is an old Greek story from thousands of years ago about a man named Daedalus who invented wings for his son Icarus and taught him to fly. It tells how the happy youth soared higher and higher until the heat of the sun melted his wings and he fell into the ocean and was drowned. This is only a myth, but it shows the age-old struggle of man to conquer the air.
In 1783, two Frenchmen made a successful balloon flight, but it took another120 years before the first successful flying machine was made. Who were the inventors? Wilbur and Orville Wright, of Dayton, Ohio. Where was this first flight accomplished? Kitty Hawk, North Carolina at a place called Kill Devil Hill.
Kitty Hawk is located on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, that long string of sandy islands along the coast. This place was selected by the Wright brothers because of the stiff winds that blow in from the ocean. They knew that they needed to take off facing into a strong wind if they expected to get their heavy machine off the ground.
At Kill Devil Hill, there is the largest sand dune I have ever seen. It looks like a mountain, and as the first flying machine did not have wheels but skids to run along on a board runway, they needed a good start downhill to get up in the air.
The time was December 17, 1903. Orville Wright was the pilot of the first flight in a powered airplane. The flight lasted twelve seconds, and the distance flown was about 120 feet. Later on the same day, Wilbur Wright piloted the 750-pound plane. (The gasoline engine that furnished the power weighed 170 pounds.) Wilbur’s flight was good for 59 seconds and a distance of 852 feet.
Returning to Dayton, the brothers rented a field outside of Dayton and began to improve their plane. Within two years, they were flying at least 35 to 40 minutes over a distance of more than 24 miles. Patents on their flying machine were secured one year later, and before another five years passed they had their flying machine accepted by the Army and a company organized to build their planes.
Now just a few remarks about these two young men, these gifted aviation pioneers and inventors. They only had brief formal schooling—neither completed high school. But, being mechanically minded, they opened a bicycle shop and engaged in the manufacturing of bicycles. But they had been bitten by the bright blue yonder bug, so most of their time was spent in aeronautic research and design. For five years, they labored to learn everything possible about aerodynamics and to design a plane that would finally achieve powered flight.
At Kill Devil Hill, their dreams and labors were accomplished and today a shaft rises on Kill Devil Hill, and it contains the names of those two aspiring young men who pioneered the great flying birds who challenge the wind and the sky. The place is a national monument dedicated to Orville and Wilbur Wright.
Now here is an unusual angle to this story. The Wright brothers’ father was Bishop Wright of the United Brethren Church. One day a friend asked him if he thought that people would some day be able to fly through the air. Bishop Wright replied, “Certainly not. If God wanted people to fly, he would have put wings on their backs.”

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