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“Success:” We will be flying today at a cruising altitude of 4 feet for 12 seconds.

We seldom have an image of the exact moment when the history of the world changed. But we do have this one from one hundred and eighteen years ago yesterday at 10:35 AM Atlantic.

“This is it. This is the moment, and you can see Wilbur. He’s caught in mid-stride. You can see Orville on the machine. It’s just all right there. it’s that moment frozen forever.”

The following telegram was sent from Kitty Hawk:
Four flights Thursday morning. Longest fifty-seven seconds.
Inform press.
Home Christmas.

Sixty-six years later:

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  • Casey Klahn December 17, 2019, 8:41 AM

    ‘Murica! Hell yeah.

  • Ray Van Dune December 17, 2019, 12:11 PM

    I have often wondered if any of the young people who helped out around the Wrights’ Kitty Hawk camp lived to watch the moon landing. A teenaged boy or girl would have only been in their late 70s in 1969.

  • Ray Van Dune December 17, 2019, 12:21 PM

    I have the bound edition of the Wrights’ papers, and have read them several times. They did not succeed by chance! By the way, the events of the recent film “Ford v. Ferrari” took place at Le Mans about 60 years after they demonstrated the Wright Flyer there for the first time in Europe. It was fashionable in France to refer to the Wrights as “blouffeurs”, but they shut that down with their first flight at Le Mans – the first American technological tour de force there. While other airplanes wallowed along in ground effect, barely able to complete a full turn, the Flyer lived up to its name, and flew!

  • ghostsniper December 17, 2019, 5:13 PM

    Depends on how long a fight is, I suppose.
    A 3-1/2 second flight isn’t a flight but a 12 second flight is.
    Go figure.

    On December 14, 1903, they felt ready for their first attempt at powered flight. With the help of men from the nearby government life-saving station, the Wrights moved the Flyer and its launching rail to the incline of a nearby sand dune, Big Kill Devil Hill, intending to make a gravity-assisted takeoff. The brothers tossed a coin to decide who would get the first chance at piloting, and Wilbur won. The airplane left the rail, but Wilbur pulled up too sharply, stalled, and came down after 3​1⁄2 seconds with not much damage.

    Repairs after the abortive first flight took three days. When they were ready again on December 17, the wind was averaging more than 20 miles per hour, so the brothers laid the launching rail on level ground, pointed into the wind, near their camp. This time the wind, instead of an inclined launch, provided the necessary airspeed for takeoff. Because Wilbur had already had the first chance, Orville took his turn at the controls. His first flight lasted 12 seconds for a total distance of 120 feet – shorter than the wingspan of a Boeing 747, as noted by observers in the 2003 commemoration of the first flight.

    Taking turns, the Wrights made four brief, low-altitude flights that day. The flight paths were all essentially straight; turns were not attempted. Each flight ended in a bumpy and unintended “landing.” The last flight, by Wilbur, was 852 feet in 59 seconds, much longer than each of the three previous flights of 120, 175 and 200 feet. The landing broke the front elevator supports, which the Wrights hoped to repair for a possible four-mile flight to Kitty Hawk village. Soon after, a heavy gust picked up the Flyer and tumbled it end over end, damaging it beyond any hope of quick repair. It was never flown again.

    • Anne December 19, 2022, 9:15 AM

      Thank you for this detailed description of those first flights when combined with the photos they really help to make the moment come alive!

  • Tom Hyland December 17, 2019, 7:34 PM

    The boys could have flown the contraption many more times if they’d thought to install wheels on it. I used to hang glide and my beginner’s Seahawk had wheels on the bottom control bar. Never flew Kitty Hawk but that was a hang gliding destination for many.

  • Auntie Analogue December 18, 2022, 7:36 PM

    When I read the inscription on that moon landing escutcheon it came as a profound delight to see that its date is recorded as “A.D.” That was 1969, before p.c. and Woke came to insist on the crude, smug obliteration of Our Lord’s birth by suffixing dates with “BCE” and “CE.”

    • ThisIsNotNutella December 19, 2022, 6:13 AM


      It weren’t ‘The Woke’ wot dunnit. Nor were’t ‘The Communists’.

      t’were The Kindly Ones.

      But hush now… Not a word!

      • Anne December 19, 2022, 9:13 AM

        Best description of “The Kindly Ones” I have heard! 🙂

  • azlibertarian December 19, 2022, 10:54 AM

    If you haven’t read it, I can recommend David McCullough’s The Wright Brothers.

    It is kinda a simple point to miss, but one of the reasons that the Wright Brothers succeeded in getting an airplane flying is that they were bicycle mechanics. Riding a bicycle requires balance, which is something that other early developers of airplanes didn’t quite understand.

    • Vanderleun December 19, 2022, 1:16 PM

      Fantastic book. I highly recommend it as well.