Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Kitty Hawk, Then and Now

Day One.  Four Flights.

Morgantown, WV.  4/10/2013:   They flew four times on December 17th, 1903..the first day of aviation as we know it.  The first run was only 120 feet long, maybe 10 feet high and took just 12 seconds.  But it demonstrated the facts of flight: taking off from a spot at a known altitude, flying under control and landing at a spot that was the same altitude as the point of departure.  Flight.  You can see it there in that picture.  The first rock, next to the launching rail, is where the aeroplane lifted off; the next rock is where it landed.  120 feet, about the span of the horizontal stabilizer on a 747, but a distance that shrank the world.

  Orville and Wilbur Wright chose Kitty Hawk, NC after a letter to the weather service told them what the winds were like.  The winds, coupled with the existence of "soft sands," made it their choice for a place to try their idea.  They went down there from their home in Dayton, Ohio as early as 1900 to try kites that showed them how their wing design would work to control it.

  It was not a pleasant place.  Heat, mosquitoes, isolation, but they got the work done.  In the picture above, the building on the left is the hangar..the one on the right is their work shop and living quarters.  They'd go down there after Dayton's bicycle season was over and spend late summer and the fall working on their "experiments."

  The picture on the right shows the National Park Service's replica of the site.  As you can see, isolation is no longer a problem.


1903 Trials

  This picture, courtesy of the Library of Congress, gives you the layout.
  The aeroplane is perched on the launching rail, ready for engine start.  
  They made an attempt on December 14th with Wilbur at the controls, but it simply ran to the end of the rail and dropped off.  On the 17th, Orville took the helm for the first successful flight, then Wilbur, then Orville and then Wilbur, who made the last one, traveling around 900 feet.  They were going to do more after lunch, but a capricious wind rolled the machine, ending their season abruptly.  And, as the Dayton, Ohio newspaper editor observed, they were "home for Christmas."

  There's a lot more to talk about, but what I'm really angling at is to tell you that you can see all of this for yourself.  Kitty Hawk is a national park now, as you'd expect, and the Park Service does an excellent job of showing you how it happened.  There is a fine museum at the entrance.  The hangar and shop are done in scrupulous detail and the flight field is done "by the numbers."  Take the kids.  For those who want to fly in (and who wouldn't if they could?) there's a small airport behind the trees.  Camping is readily available both in the beach area and in nearby Manteo, NC.

  It's an exciting story I always enjoy telling when somebody asks me to make a speech.  Go down and get the material and work up your own presentation.

    Today, the Flyer lives in its own gallery at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, the centerpiece of the museum's collection.  When you see it, tip your're in the presence of giants.