Flying First, Flying High

December 17, 2014

Here in Vermont it’s a drizzly, cold, cloud-covered day. However, 111 years ago in Kitty Hawke, North Carolina, the sun was shining and the wind was blowing steadily from the north. Perfect conditions for flying.

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The first airplane soared for 12 seconds over 120 feet (about 37 meters) of sandy ground just outside Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on December 17, 1903. This is a famous photograph of the moment the airplane lifts into the air with Orville Wright at the controls and Wilbur Wright running alongside.

Nowadays, we don’t think too much about hopping a plane to a distant city. Air travel is statistically safer than car travel, and it’s much faster. A trip that took a week by train a hundred years ago now takes only hours. And while we might complain about long security lines, the cost of a package of peanuts, and the inconvenience of checking baggage, it’s still far easier that strapping your steamer trunk to the back of a buggy and wrapping up in wool blankets for a long, uncomfortable trip to Grandma’s house for the holidays.

If the airplane had never been invented, would our world be as connected as it is via communication satellites? Perhaps not. Innovators first visualize a concept and then try to achieve that vision through engineering and technology. Could anyone have visualized the extent of our world before we could fly around it? If the airplane hadn’t come first, would we have ever invented spaceships? What might we have invented instead? And what are the Wright brothers of today busy inventing that will show us an entirely new part of the world that we never expected to see?

Thanks to the Wright brothers, people can travel to see the people they love, even if they’re on the other side of the earth. The Wrights took the physics of lift, thrust, and drag and used them to make a flying machine that revolutionized the way people perceived the world and our place in it.

This holiday season, if you’re one of the 5.4 million travelers expected to fly, take a moment to appreciate the Wright brothers for making your journey possible.

You can read Orville Wright’s diary entry for December 17, 1903 here. Did you learn anything surprising?