Hawk Moments: Fall 1900...The First Flights
21, 2003 - On the morning of September 13, 1900, a tall stranger
came knocking at the door of William Tate's house in Kitty Hawk,
North Carolina. When Tate appeared, he took off his cap and
introduced himself as Wilbur Wright of Dayton, Ohio, "to whom
you wrote concerning this section." Staying at Tate's home
Orville arrived two weeks later, Wilbur found Tate to be as
friendly and hospitable as his earlier letter. Mrs. Tate, aghast
that Wilbur had eaten nothing but a jar of jelly in the last 48
hours of traveling, immediately prepared him a hearty breakfast of
ham and eggs. Her only worry was that their spare room might not
be good enough for the well-dressed young man, but Wilbur assured
her it was fine. His only request was that she boil a gallon of
water each morning and place it in a pitcher in his room.
Orville's near-fatal attack of typhoid fever four years before was
still on his mind.
Once Orville arrived, the brothers
erected a tent on a sandy rise between Bill Tate's house and the
ocean, which sudden windy squalls nearly swept away on more than
one occasion. Orville did the cooking on a gasoline stove, Wilbur
washed the dishes - most often with little water and lots of sand.
Their diet was limited - bacon, canned vegetables, rice, tomatoes,
eggs, cornbread or biscuits and an occasional chicken.
The glider was completed the first
week in October. During the next few days, the Wrights, aided by
Bill Tate, tested heavily, until a sudden gust of wind flung the
glider off into the sand, mangling the wings badly…so much so
the brothers seriously considered returning to Dayton. For while
they had flown the machine as a weighted kite from two to four
hours, they had managed just 10 minutes total of glide time with a
man on board. Outside of learning it was not feasible to work the
front rudder and the wing-warping mechanism at the same time, they
had accomplished little. Undaunted, they dragged the damaged
glider back to camp for repairs, but their next foray - during
which they flew it as a kite with a variety of loads - was
disappointing. Said Orville: "Will was so mixed up he
couldn't even theorize. It has been with considerable effort that
I have succeeded in keeping him in the flying business at
On October 20, however, things
turned around. That day, the Wrights made a dozen successful
glides, some as long as 20 seconds for a distance of nearly 400
feet, although they found the problem of lateral equilibrium still
troublesome. In spite of that, they had good reason to be pleased.
Rather than merely dangling from a glider like Lilienthal, they
had used their hands and brains to maintain equilibrium for a
respectable distance…and survived.
Wrote Wilbur later, "We
considered it quite a point to…return without having our pet
theories completely knocked in the head by the hard logic of
experience, and our own brains dashed out in the bargain."
This "Kitty Hawk
Moment" is brought to you by EAA, whose Countdown to Kitty
Hawk program, presented by Ford Motor Company, includes an exact
flying reproduction of the Wright Flyer. It is the centerpiece of
EAA's national tour during 2003, which will conclude with a
five-day celebration at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, where the
Wright flyer will fly again at exactly 10:35 a.m. on Dec. 17,
2003, commemorating 100 years of powered flight.