The year is 1903 and the Wright brothers, Orville and Wilbur, have been working for four years on how to fly a heavier-than-air craft moving under its own power, under control of a pilot, and without losing speed while underway. On December 17, they did it.
Here’s the airfield where it all happened. The red circle shows the starting point of each flight, and the red rectangles show the ending points of each flight that day, with the first flight being the left-most white marker (and each flight was a bit longer in length, so the markers are in order of the flights themselves).
Here’s a closeup of that starting point. At the base of it, you can see the launching rail they used for each flight.
The photo below is looking down the airstrip at ground level, so you can see the markers and the distances between them. That little white dot on the right is the fourth flight, 852 feet and 59 seconds away from the starting point, and the longest one of that historic day.
Standing in front of this tiny airstrip, I thought of all the 12-hour flights to the UK and 14-hour flights to Australia I’ve taken in my life. It all started right here, on this windblown field on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. All that I’ve seen of this world by flight I owe to Orville and Wilbur Wright.
At the other end of the National Memorial is the official monument, set on top of Kill Devils Hill, where the two men made over a thousand glider flights, honing their skills as pilots.
What sticks with me as that these two guys had zero aeronautical training because there wasn’t any. As the National Park Service put it, “Dismayed that so many great minds had made so little progress, the brothers were exhilarated by the realization that they had as much chance as anyone of succeeding” in human flight. They simply studied whatever they could find about flight attempts and then started working.
Four years later, they changed the world.
In 1947, Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier, and in 1969, we landed on the moon. All because two bicycle mechanics thought they could do something no one else had. (Yes, they had the Wright stuff. I know at least one person is dying for me to make that pun so here you go…)
Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.
Leonardo da Vinci