Pioneers of Flight


            Women and men made history in the simplest, yet most demanding ways. Two brothers from Ohio used their bicycle engineering skills, dredged up what they knew about wind and kite flying and applied every ounce of their resources to master the first successful airplane. Wilbur and Orville Wright used a single steel rail and a twenty-seven mile per hour headwind to fly their invention on December 17, 1903.

     I was impressed by these men and the Wright Brothers National Memorial on a recent trip to Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina. It wasn’t until they were able to control the rudder, warping mechanism, and elevator simultaneously that they stayed aloft for 59 seconds. They were satisfied with the 852 foot world record, despite the plane crashing into the sand, flipping over in the wind and being damaged beyond repair.

     Surely these men were aware of the extreme cost and manpower which brought railroad trains to Colorado in 1870. Yet, they were not bound by the popular opinion of trains being the ultimate way to travel. With the meager support of a few people, they broke through barriers most still believed to be crazy. By 1904 their next airplane was able to make one hundred five successful flights. In 1905, an improved design stayed aloft for thirty eight minutes.

     I shall remember these determined and ingenious men the next time I allow myself to become discouraged.


6 responses »

  1. Kill Devil Hills is an awesome place to visit. You can feel the excitment and inspiration that surrounded the moment humans took to the air. Also, the ocean isn’t bad either.

  2. And one of the brothers (I forget which one) was the first person to die in an airplane crash!


    Shannon E. Perry, RN, PhD, FAAN

    Professor Emerita, SFSU

    4157 Lookout Drive

    Loveland, CO 80537



    • Actually Orville was injured in that crash, but lived until he died of a heart attack in 1948. On September 17, 1908, Army lieutenant Thomas Selfridge rode along as his passenger, serving as an official observer. A few minutes into the flight at an altitude of about 100 feet (30 m), a propeller split and shattered, sending the aircraft out of control. Selfridge suffered a fractured skull in the crash and died that evening in the nearby Army hospital, becoming the first airplane crash fatality. Orville was badly injured, suffering a broken left leg and four broken ribs. Twelve years later, after he suffered increasingly severe pains, X-rays revealed the accident had also caused three hip bone fractures and a dislocated hip.

  3. I wish I would have know you were there. Rex Peters who has the newspaper there was my childhood neighbor and I have kept in touch with he and his wife these past few years. Sounds like you were inspired.

  4. Courageous men who followed a dream and didn’t give up when faced with less than desired results. They learned and kept on trying. We all need that inspiration when life’s pitfalls tumble our way.

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