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"It was only a flight of twelve seconds, and it was an uncertain, wavy, creeping sort of flight at best; but it was a real flight at last. . ."—Orville Wright

Chapter 1

Milton Wright was a traveling preacher on the West coast with the United Brethern Church when he met and later married Susan Koerner. They would have five children the youngest being Wilbur, Orville and Katherine. They were born in 1867, 1871 and 1874 respectively. Eventually he accepted the position of bishop and settled his family near the church’s headquarters in Dayton, Ohio. Very little is known about Susan Wright. Unlike her husband and a number of her children, she did not keep a personal journal. From the writings of the two most famous brothers, it is known that she had great mechanical aptitude, passed on to her from her father, who was a carriage maker. Susan Wright died in 1889 from tuberculosis. Her death was deeply felt within this tight-knit family.

The two eldest Wright brothers were Reuchlin and Lorin. Lorin worked in various business ventures with his younger brothers and did miscellaneous other jobs. He was the only other Wright brother to ever visit Wilbur and Orville’s encampment in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Reuchlin moved to Kansas City and over time he distanced himself from the family in Dayton. He, his wife and children became known as the "Kansas City Wrights."

Orville and Wilbur’s sister, Katherine was adored by everyone as the baby of the family. At a very early age, Orville, Wilbur and Katherine formed a special bond between the three of them. After Susan’s death, Katherine became the strongest female influence in the Wright brothers’ life and managed the affairs of the Wright household when Milton was away on travel.

Chapter 2

Milton believed in educational toys and on one trip he brought home a toy helicopter to eleven-year-old Wilbur and seven-year-old Orville. The Penaud helicopter used strands of rubber thread to drive a pair of counter rotating rotors. Wilbur and Orville experimented with the toy and made many successful recreations of it. Its deep influence on the boy’s interests was highlighted 35 years later when Orville told the story of the gift during court testimony.

Chapter 3

Although excellent students in many areas neither Wilbur nor Orville actually graduated high school. Wilbur didn’t finished his senior classes at Richmond High School in Richmond, Indiana because of the family’s abrupt move to Dayton in June of 1884. Later he was enrolled in college preparatory classes at Dayton Central High School. He was an active athlete as well. In the winter of 1885-86, while playing a game on skates on an artificial lake, Wilbur was accidentally hit in the mouth with a stick and fell to the ground. This event, which resulted in an injury to his jaw and mouth, changed Wilbur’s life. Several weeks after the accident Wilbur began to have heart palpitations and digestive complications. These same symptoms plagued Wilbur for the rest of his life. This incident, the complications of his recovery and the long recuperation time sent Wilbur spiraling into a deep depression. He began to consider himself fragile and gave up the dream he had of attending Yale University and becoming a teacher. With no future plans, Wilbur turned to taking care of his sick mother.

Life in the 19th century was not easy. Even though the Wright family lived in very progressive towns in the Midwest, including Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Richmond, Indiana; and Dayton, Ohio their family was not immune from the sicknesses that plagued most families.

Susan Milton developed tuberculosis in 1883 and by 1886 she was a complete invalid. With Milton traveling for the church and Katherine and Orville needing someone to take care of them, Wilbur became the head of the household. During the three years he nursed his mother, Wilbur devoured the library collection that his father had built up. The finest encyclopedias and classics of the time were a part of the bishop’s collected works. By the end of 1889, Wilbur was coming out of his shell and had gained an immense amount of knowledge about literature, writing and speaking. These three traits would serve him well in the future.

Chapter 4

When the Wright Brothers were young and their father was traveling, they constantly wrote letters back and forth. Bishop Wright insisted that his children be complete and accurate letter writers. One of the earliest records found in the Wright collection is a letter from ten-year-old Orville to his father.

April 1, 1881

Dear Father- I got your letter today. My teacher said I was a good boy today. We have 45 in our room. The other day I took a machine can and filled it with water then I put it on the stove I waited a little while and the water came squirting out of the top about a foot…The old cat is dead.

Though the U.S. mail system had improved a lot from the days of the Pony Express, it often still took days or even weeks for letters to go back and forth. People tried to keep the exchange time to a minimum by responding to letters the day they received them. Katherine and Bishop Wright exchanged numerous letters a week regarding household affairs. Normally the letters from Milton were very extensive and filled with details of what and what not to do. In later years, after the Bishop died and Katherine was traveling with Orville, she sent the very same directional letters home to the Wright’s housekeeper, Carrie.

When the Wright Brothers were in Kitty Hawk, NC, they wrote many letters back home about the current happenings in their experiments and in their lives. One letter from Orville to Katherine clearly details the misery they endured during portions of their encampment.

The sand and grass and trees and hills and everything were crawling with them [mosquitoes]… We attempted to escape by going to bed. We put our cots out under the awnings and wrapped up in our blankets with only our noses protruding from under the folds…The perspiration would roll off us in torrents. We would partly uncover and the mosquitoes would swoop down upon us in vast multitudes.

Wilbur Wright lived until May 30, 1911. In his lifetime he saw many technological advances…one of them he helped perfect. Those who lived during the turn of the century saw great technological changes, particularly in communications.

Fortunately, a telegraph line had been installed to the Outer Banks of North Carolina the year before the Wright Brothers began their flying machine experiments there. For the brothers, this proved to be a vital link to contacts back home when their experimentation became more intense. In fact, the brothers and their father had devised a plan for when they were finally able to fly their powered machine. The plan was to be set in motion when the brothers sent a telegraph to their father. This is the telegraph they sent on Dec. 17, 1903:

Success four flights Thursday morning # all against twenty one mile wind started from level with engine power alone # average speed through air thirty one miles longest 57 seconds inform Press home #### Christmas.

Orevelle Wright

Complete with Orville’s name being misspelled during the message’s transmission, and the error in listing the time as 57 instead of 59 seconds, it arrived in Milton Wright’s hands only a few hours after it left North Carolina. Unfortunately, the local Associated Press representative was singularly unimpressed, remarking to Lorin Wright that ". . . if it had been fifty-seven minutes then it might have been a news item."

In the future the brothers would use the telegraph for constant communication with their potential airplane buyers, their family and with each other when they were traveling apart.

Chapter 5

The building of the airplane was not the first endeavor the Wright Brothers had worked on together. Before the family returned to Dayton, Orville had become interested in the operation of a printing press. As a Christmas gift, Wilbur bought him a set of woodcutting tools to make his own type. When the Wrights moved back to Dayton, Orville was happy to hear that his old friend Ed Sines had a small printing outfit. The printing company of Sines & Wright was formed. Their first project was a newspaper called the The Midget and was aimed at their eight-grade classmates. Milton put a stop to that paper claiming their readers would feel cheated due to their lack of material. Sines & Wright reverted back to job printing of handbills, cards, envelopes and pamphlets. Orville spent two summers as an apprentice in a printing shop and built his own printing press using a damaged tombstone, buggy parts and items found in junkyards. His big brother, Wilbur’s consultations helped get the press running. With the new printing press, larger jobs could be made and they were issued under the name "Wright Bros: Job Printers, 7 Hawthorn Street." That was the first time the phrase "Wright Brothers" was ever used in print.

In 1889, Orville decided not to return for his senior year of high school. He knew he wanted to be a printer and by that time he knew all the basics. Orville bought out Ed Sines’ portion of the printing business and began working with his brother Wilbur. On March 1, 1889 with Orville as publisher and Wilbur as editor they produced the first edition of a weekly newspaper called The West Side News. Its intended readership was the people residing on the west side of Dayton. By the end of April, the brothers were starting to make a profit on their subscriptions and rented quarters at 1210 West Third.

Though the Wright brothers enjoyed their work, it was not terribly stimulating. To combat the boredom, they decided to turn the paper into a daily. With that, The Evening Item began appearing on doorsteps. The Item was superb at reporting on local events that the other dallies missed. But they were not above a few touches of "yellow journalism" here and there. Some of the headlines that appeared were: "Died for Love- Tragic Suicide in an Ohio Hotel" and "Leprosy—Dread Disease Among Chicago’s Millions". However, the brothers started the daily with very little capital and no savings. Four months after production started the last issue appeared. The brothers had decided to go back to the more stable and secure job printing business.

In time, Wright & Wright became a modestly successful printer in Dayton and the brothers used this venture to work out the dynamics in their own relationship. They developed their problem-solving skills and learned to argue effectively with each other. "I love to scrap with Orv, Orv is such a good scrapper," wrote Wilbur. Both of these traits would be invaluable in years to come. Everything was moving smoothly in the Wrights’ life, but it was clear that the brothers were getting restless for something more challenging.

Chapter 6

In 1892, both Orville and Wilbur had purchased the most popular form of transportation and entertainment, a bicycle, and "wheeling" had become something they did in their free time. The Wright Brothers were known on the west side of Dayton as being accomplished mechanics, so it’s not surprising that their friends began asking them to perform bicycle repairs. Almost by accident, the brothers fell into their next business opportunity. When Wilbur talked to his father in October of 1892 about the possibility of opening a bicycle repair shop, his father fully agreed. Milton Wright, as well as his younger sons, saw the possibility in the bicycle trade.

So with Ed Sines still working for them in the printing business, the Wright Brothers rented space on 1005 West Third Street and opened the Wright Cycle Exchange. They not only repaired bicycles, but they sold parts and accessories as well as new bicycles. By 1893, the bicycle shop was their primary business and they renamed it the Wright Cycle Company. But times were tough. By now the Wrights had a dozen competitors in Dayton and their business was only flourishing in the peak seasons of spring and summer.

Instead of folding, the brothers decided to double the efforts. In the spring of 1895 they opened two bicycle shops. Later as business slacked off in the fall, they centralized one of them and the printing business together in their shop on South Williams Street. They experimented with creative advertising, targeted a high school market, touted the virtues of their products and even printed a weekly publication called Snap-Shots of Current Events. This publication primarily promoted the Wright Cycle Company. In 1895-96, they decided to expand their business by producing their own bicycles.

Their main sales pitch was that Wright Cycles were made of the best materials, the highest quality workmanship and were sold at a very competitive price. Their most expensive and most popular bicycle was $60, whereas the competitor’s average price was nearly twice as much. Customers had the choice of a variety of brand-name handlebars, seats, and tires. There were both men’s and women’s models available, and the Wright built their own wheels with either metal or wooden frames. This marks a turning point in the Wrights’ bicycle career. They had be come successful small businessmen, with 80% of their income coming from the bicycle shop and 20% coming from the printing company. For many people, it would have been a time to relax and enjoy a little success, but once again they found themselves bored, and anxious to find a new challenge.

In the summer of 1896, a couple of subjects of note were bicycles and flying machines. Both mechanical pursuits were in the news and some believed they were directly correlated. If you could learn to balance and ride a bicycle, it seemed that you could learn to balance and fly a flying machine. Little did those commentators know how right they were.

Chapter 7

The Wright brothers’ initiatives to take a serious interest in flying took a long time to develop. It started in the late 1890’s when the bicycle craze that once swept the nation began to die down. Particularly after the death of pioneer gliding aviator Otto Lilienthal, the brothers began collecting reading material on the advancements being made in the area of flying machines. On May 30, 1899 Wilbur wrote to the Smithsonian Institution requesting published materials concerning aeronautics. Wilbur called himself "an enthusiast, but not a crank in the sense that I have some pet theories as to the proper construction of a flying machine." While not paying any more attention to the letter than he had for similar requests, Samuel Langley’s assistant Richard Rathbun had a letter prepared with a list of current articles and sent it, along with a series of pamphlets on the subject of aeronautics to Wilbur. The references given to the brothers would prove to be the turning point in their life.

On May 13, 1900 Wilbur wrote to Octave Chanute, an internationally renowned expert on gliding, and on flying machines in general. The letter describes Wilbur as having a disease that "is a belief of flight." He continues this analogy throughout the letter and asks for Chanute’s advice on the brothers’ plans to fly their glider. This letter began a life-long relationship with Octave Chanute and the Wright Brothers (Wilbur in particular). Chanute would support the Wright Brothers in all their efforts and urged them to make public appearances and give interviews. The letters to Chanute also allowed Wilbur to write down his thoughts and get another person’s perspective on them. Even as an elderly man in his early seventies, Chanute visited the Wright Brothers when they were at home in Dayton and when they were experimenting at Kitty Hawk. The three men would stay up to all hours of the night discussing engineering ideas and soon-to-be aeronautical practices.

On Sept. 3, 1900, Wilbur told his father that he was going to take the glider that he and Orville were building on the second floor of their bicycle shop to a place called Kitty Hawk, North Carolina for testing.

Chapter 8

Travel around the United States and even out of the country is very easy today, but when the Wright Brothers began their testing, travel was much more difficult. When Wilbur left for Kitty Hawk on Thursday, September 6, 1900, he had to first take a train from Dayton to Norfolk, Virginia and then boarded another train that took him to Elizabeth City, North Carolina. He arrived on Saturday, September 6 at 4:30 p.m. He had missed the Friday mail boat, so he started searching around the docks looking for someone who could take him across the Albemarle Sound to Kitty Hawk. He was surprised to find that no one knew anything about the place or where it was. It took him until Tuesday, September 11 to locate boatman Israel Perry, who offered to take him to across. They started out on Perry’s skiff and finally rowed to his boat, the Curlique, which in Wilbur’s eyes was in great disrepair. "The sails were rotten, the ropes badly worn and the rudder post half rotted off." After the boat set off into the sound the wind picked up and Wilbur spent the next day a half bailing water and helping the boatmen control the sails. Despite what he thought to be a near sinking, Wilbur arrived in Kitty Hawk on September 12, 1900.

At this time, Kitty Hawk had no electricity, no running water, no telephone lines, but they did have the one telegraph station and a wire connecting it to the mainland. There were no automobiles and all the roads were sand tracks. There were no doctors except for a few midwives and a schooled pharmacist. There were 60 houses and approximately 250 people split up into what the locals called "up the road" and "down the road". Each section of the road had a general store, a church and a school. Why did the Wright Brothers pick this desolate place 600 miles from home to test their flying machine? In short, steady winds, combined with solitude and hospitality.

Wilbur had sent a letter to the National Weather Bureau requesting average wind speeds at various locations around the country. Chicago turned up to be one of the windiest places, but the brothers didn’t like the urban feel for their testing. A place called Kitty Hawk, North Carolina was also high on the list. Wilbur drafted a letter to Joseph J. Dosher, the sole Weather Bureau employee at Kitty Hawk, asking about the condition of the area. Dosher responded in a letter, but he also asked Bill Tate, long time resident, to respond as well. The Wright Brothers received such favorable and prompt responses from both that they decided to make this their testing grounds.

In the letter from Bill Tate to Wilbur, Bill writes:

In answering, I would say that you would find here nearly any type of ground you wish; you could, for instance, get a stretch of sandy land one mile by five with a bare hill in the center 80 feet high, not a tree or bush anywhere to break the evenness of the wind current. This in my opinion would be a fine place; our winds are always steady, generally from 10 to 20 miles velocity per hour.

… If you decided to try your machine here & come I will take pleasure in doing all I can for your convenience & success & pleasure, & I assure you will find hospitable people when you come among us.

Wilbur didn’t even reply. Eight weeks later he showed up on Bill Tate’s doorstep with bags in hand. He stayed with the Tates for a short while.

Chapter 9

Shortly after Wilbur arrived, Orville who had stayed behind tending to their business interests joined him, bringing a tent and other needed supplies. The brothers were not intent upon making much progress in the area of experimentation. First of all, they had to get used to living at Kitty Hawk and without all the modern conveniences left behind in Dayton. At this point Wilbur was not fully convinced that flight by man was possible, but he wanted to try and if nothing else, the brothers would be able to see a new part of the country. They also liked the idea of gliding flight as a new sport. During this year they began experimenting with a glider that they had partially built at home. It was intended to be flown as a manned kite, however the only person who made a successful ascent in it was Bill Tate’s nephew, twelve-year-old Tom Tate. Wilbur made a few successful runs using the apparatus as a glider off the tall sand dunes.

After five weeks the brothers decided it was time to pack up and go home. They considered their trip a success, but realized that the problem of flying was a complicated one. The brothers did confirm one of their experimental ideas that first year in Kitty Hawk They called it wing warping. On a day during July of 1899, prior to their first trip, Wilbur was fiddling with an empty rectangular inter tube box that had the box ends torn off. When twisting one side, he found that other side reacted with an opposite effect. After testing his theory of roll control on a small kite he and Orville made, he adapted this control system to their 1900 kite/glider and controlled the twisting movement of the wings by a T-bar actuated by the rider’s feet. The wing warping helped control the aircraft and is the modern equivalent of ailerons.

Chapter 10

Based on what they learned at Kitty Hawk in the fall of 1900, in 1901 the brothers redesigned their glider. They changed the curvature of the wings to better match historical flight data, and the 1901 glider would be nearly two and a half times larger in surface area than the previous year’s machine.

Upon returning to Kitty Hawk for more experiments in July of 1901, a series of perplexing problems began to vex the brothers. The lift they expected from the new design just wasn’t there and they were never able to keep it in the air for very long. The new elevator design also proved to be less effective than the 1900 glider’s forward control surface.

Coupled with their problems of flight, the brothers combated nature during an especially difficult year at Kitty Hawk. They built a small shack at their camp for the glider to be housed in, but they were still sleeping in tents surrounded by voracious mosquitoes. Adding to their difficulty was the fact that they had no running water. In 1900 their experiments did not go exactly as planned, but they did produce encouraging results. The 1901 experiments had conflicting results, with some of the flights ending in dangerous accidents. Their wing-warping system of roll control seemed to work well most of the time, but other times the glider would slide off in an uncontrollable skid. The brothers considered their experiments a failure, and they began to suspect that the historical data they had utilized to build their 1901 glider was wrong. On the train ride home in late August of 1901, Wilbur remarked with despair, "Not within a thousand years would man ever fly."

After reaching Dayton, the brothers decided they needed to double-check the data they had taken for granted. To test the lifting properties of an airfoil section versus a flat plate, they mounted the objects to the edges of a bicycle wheel, which was attached horizontally above the front wheel of one of their bicycles. By riding along and generating some wind flow, they were able to confirm that Lilienthal’s lift tables, which they had relied on for the design of their 1901 glider, were in error.

Recognizing they had used a pretty crude method to compare the properties of the two metal shapes, their airflow experiments became more sophisticated and delicate. They first double-checked the results of the wheel-mounted test in a hastily constructed wind tunnel. Satisfied that they were on the right track, they constructed a box six feet long and sixteen inches square on the inside. They mounted a fan attached to a sheet metal hood to one side and replaced a panel on the top of the box with a pane of glass so they could see inside. The fan moved the air through the tunnel at an even 27 miles per hour and the brothers were able to study over 150 miniature sections of wings and wing shapes. Using a carefully systemized approach to the testing of each airfoil or shape, the Wright brothers confirmed that the historical data credibly passed down by researchers was indeed in serious error and could be positively changed by the brothers. They began constructing their 1902 glider with a different wing curvature and lift coefficient, this time confident in their own thought processes.

Chapter 11

When the Wrights returned to Kitty Hawk in late August of 1902, they were excited to get there and try their new glider, based on data they had extracted from the wind tunnel tests. The original shed they had built to house their 1901 glider had been somewhat damaged by the coastal winds over the year. They rebuilt the foundation of that shed and added on a kitchen and an area for them to sleep. They also dug a well to provide themselves with clean, fresh water.

Their experiments were going very well and the new glider flew much better than it’s predecessor, thanks to the design changes made in the last year. Even with the addition of a pair of fixed rudders adding aft of the wings, they still experienced an excessive skid while turning or correcting a wing that had dropped. If Orville and Wilbur could not get it under control quickly they would crash into the sand. This happened twice in one week and the brothers realized the situation was quite dangerous. Orville lay awake in his bunk in the rafters of the shed the night of October 3rd, and reasoned though the problem. He discussed it with Wilbur the next morning, and after much consideration, they made one more change to their design. The original fixed dual rudder was turned into a single movable rudder that was connected to the wing warping mechanism. When the operator moved his hips to operate the wing warping he was also moving the rudder to make the process more effective. This proved to be the final obstacle the brothers needed to overcome in their mastery of fully controlled gliding. In direct contrast to their departure from Kitty Hawk the year before, the Wrights left the Outer Banks of North Carolina fully confident in their flying machine’s capabilities. The set out to create the next aircraft in their logical progression of experiments. The next time they flew, instead of gravity, an engine and propellers would provide the motive force for the next Wright flying machine.

When Orville and Wilbur arrived home in Dayton after Kitty Hawk, they began making inquires to gasoline engine manufacturers. They knew what kind of engine they wanted to put on their enlarged biplane the following year, but no one made an engine light enough and with enough horsepower, and the current manufacturers didn’t have any interest in building and engine to suit the Wright’s requirements. Fortunately, they already had someone in their employ that was capable of helping them build an engine their longtime friend and machinist Charlie Taylor. The Wright’s had previously built a stationary engine to power their machine shop tools, but Taylor’s machining expertise was put to work helping them build an engine to their own specifications. The entire winter and spring of 1903 were spent building and testing the new four-cylinder engine. The other tough engineering problem to tackle involved the engineering of the propellers; there was no reliable engineering data to start with, so the complex problem was attacked step by step.

Chapter 12

Orville and Wilbur left for their fourth trip to Kitty Hawk on September 23, 1903 and arrived there in record-breaking time of two days. They had shipped most of their growing supply of materials and their Flyer ahead of them. The shipment didn’t arrive until October 8 so the brothers used the time to repair the camp and make additions to the existing structures. The wait for their supplies gave them time to practice their gliding using the 1902 glider, which they had left in the rafters of their camp the year before.

Numerous people were at the camp at various times this year, including Octave Chanute. A test run of the engine resulted in a strong set of vibrations that damaged the propeller shafts. With no machine shop nearby, on November 6 they sent the shafts back to Charlie Taylor in Dayton to have them repaired. The repaired shafts were received later that month and another test run on November 28, they detected another problem with cracking of one prop shaft. This time, Orville took the shafts back to Dayton himself, where a new set of shafts made out spring steel were made. He returned on December 11 and for the first time in over a month the brothers were completely alone at Kitty Hawk. Their guests had departed, Chanute the last to leave on November 12 after only staying 6 days. Up until this point the brothers had done an immense amount of groundwork with their Flyer and its engine. They had even designed and built a monorail that the Flyer could be launched off of into the wind. After another ground test that resulted in slight damage to the tail frame and with the winter weather steadily getting worse, it was time to attempt an actual flight.

The Wright brothers’ craft had grown in size over the years; adding an engine the to the Flyer gave it a weight of 605 pounds with a 40-foot wingspan. The brothers needed all the help they could get maneuvering the heavy machine. To the east of the Wright’s camp, the U.S. Lifesaving Service station was located on the Atlantic Ocean beach. The predecessors of today’s U.S. Coast Guard, the station was manned by hearty men who lived at the lifesaving stations up and down the eastern seaboard. The Kill Devil Hills Lifesaving station was located a few miles from the Wrights camp and the brothers had established a close relationship with the men over the years. When the Wrights were prepared to fly, they tacked a large red flag on the side of their hanger as a signal for any men available at the station to come and help.

December 12, 1903 the brothers reinstalled the stronger propeller shafts, but found there were inadequate winds to fly. December 13 was a promising day, but since it was a Sunday, they chose to observe a day of rest. In deference to the wishes of their father the bishop, the boys never worked on a Sunday, even during their years of experimentation.

Monday, December 14 they tacked the cloth up and it brought eight or so people to the dunes to help. The plane was loaded onto the monorail and the engine started. It was decided by a coin toss that Wilbur would go first.

The Flyer did take off and fly very briefly. It covered 105 feet in 3.5 seconds, but the brothers did not consider it a successful flight. First of all, they were breaking their own fundamental rule and launching the flyer downhill off a sand dune. Secondly, the flight was very short and essentially uncontrolled, Wilbur, by his own admission, over controlled and stalled the machine as it lifted from the launching rail. In the ensuing impact a few struts and braces for the elevator broke when the flyer stuck the ground. December 15 and the first part of December 16 were spent making repairs. On the afternoon of December 16 they were ready to launch, but found the wind had dropped in strength. Disappointed, the brothers and their helpers dragged the Flyer back into its hanger.

December 17 dawned clear and below-freezing cold. They tacked their sheet up in the twenty-four mile per hour wind and awaited their volunteer ground crew. Into camp strolled Willie Dough, Adam Etheridge, John Daniels - a 240 pound strongman, W.C. Brinkley - a lumber merchant and a young man from Nags Head, Johnny Moore. How Johnny Moore ended up at the Wright Brothers’ camp is still a mystery. Some say he just walked in and offered to help, others say he was walking home and still others say he was visiting the Kill Devil Hills Lifesaving station when the flag was tacked up. Regardless of how he got there, he was able to witness, along with four others, an event that would never be repeated.

The brothers and their helpers loaded their Flyer onto the monorail. After losing the coin toss on the 14 it was now Orville’s turn to fly. The brothers started up the engine and exchanged handshakes. Orville had set up a camera with the hopes of getting a visual image if the flight was a success. He had instructed John Daniels how to take the photograph. When the plane took off the monorail at 10:35 a.m. Daniels was in position, and he followed Orville’s instructions precisely, tripping the shutter just as the Flyer lifted from the rail, and Wilbur’s run alongside the Flyer is trailing off as he witnesses the culmination of four years of work by he and his brother. The photograph Daniels took was perfect and has become the one of the most analyzed shots of all time. It was supposedly the only picture John Daniels ever took.

Orville lifted off the monorail with his brother running beside him as long as he could. He flew 120 feet in twelve seconds. The operation of the elevator gave him trouble (they determined later they had hinged the elevator in the wrong place, which resulted in it trying to move into a fully deflected position when moved to control the pitch of the Flyer) and he landed much as Wilbur did three days before, but he had stayed aloft four times longer. Wilbur flew the second flight of 175 feet in fifteen seconds. Next, Orville covered 200 feet in fifteen seconds. By now they both began to "get the hang of it" and the fourth flight of the day once and for all settled the matter whether or not they had achieved powered flight. Wilbur flew 852 feet in fifty-nine seconds.

When Wilbur landed he came down hard and broke the elevator supports. The brothers and their ecstatic volunteer team pulled the craft back to the camp to repair it, talking about flying it all the way to the weather Service’s station on the beach. While standing there, a gust of wind picked it up and started to overturn it. Both Orville and John Daniels grabbed hold of a strut. Orville let go, but Daniels did not. He became tangled in the wires and propeller chains as the Flyer tumbled across the sand. Remarkably, he survived unscathed and from that day forward he always claimed he survived the first "airplane crash." The Flyer, however didn’t fare as well, and was badly damaged. It would never fly again.

Chapter 13

The Wrights had achieved something no one else could. Adding their own scientifically produced data to the groundwork laid down by pioneers such as Lilienthal and Chanute, they succeeded where no one else had. On that day in December, 1903, they flew the first powered aircraft to lift itself under it’s own power, traverse a section of the sky under full control of the operator and then land, ready to fly again. Others came along in later years and made airplanes more user-friendly and comfortable. But in the end, it was the Wright Brothers who used their mechanical ingenuity, their ability to work together and their determination, to allow man to fly where only the beasts of the air had been before.

Wilbur Wright passed away on May 30, 1911, a victim of Typhoid fever, the disease that had nearly killed his brother Orville during the summer of 1896. Orville would live into the age of supersonic flight, passing away at the age of seventy-seven on January 27, 1948.




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