David McCullough (Truman, John Adams, Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award) recently published a new book on The Wright Brothers. James Salter has a nice review in the New York Review of Books.
They knew exactly the importance of what they had accomplished. They knew they had solved the problem of flight and more. They had acquired the knowledge and the skill to fly. They could soar, they could float, they could dive and rise, circle and glide and land, all with assurance.
Now they had only to build a motor.
Update: British Pathe has footage of a flight by the Wright Brothers:
It’s labelled “First Flight” but the footage is actually from much later…that is clearly not Kitty Hawk and the first two-person flights did not occur until 1908. It is also unclear whether Orville and Wilbur were flying together in the video. From Salter’s piece:
He and Wilbur had never flown together so that if there were ever a fatal accident it would not involve both of them, and one of them would live to continue the work. On that one occasion, they took off to fly together, with Orville at the controls, side by side.
If the footage is from the flight Salter describes, that would make it from 1910. (via @SavageReader)
In celebration of National Aviation Day, In Focus has a slideshow of photos of the Wright Brothers’ first flights.
The caption on that photo reads:
First flight: 120 feet in 12 seconds, on December 17, 1903. This photograph shows man’s first powered, controlled, sustained flight. Orville Wright at the controls of the machine, lying prone on the lower wing with hips in the cradle which operated the wing-warping mechanism. Wilbur Wright running alongside to balance the machine, has just released his hold on the forward upright of the right wing. The starting rail, the wing-rest, a coil box, and other items needed for flight preparation are visible behind the machine. Orville Wright preset the camera and had John T. Daniels squeeze the rubber bulb, tripping the shutter.
The Wright Brothers were 32 & 36 years old when they made their first flight at Kitty Hawk in 1903. The Wright Flyer was not the product of daring youthful innovation (as with Picasso, Bill Gates, or Mozart) but rather of years of experience and experimentation (like Cezanne, Twain, or Frank Lloyd Wright).
This short film was made in 1909 and depicts Wilbur Wright flying one of his airplanes around an open field. At 1:38, they attach the camera to the plane and shot what is thought to be the first video footage shot from a powered flying machine.
Then the plane started up again, followed a launching pad and took off: the camera was fixed for the first time on the ground that gave way…and the emotion was there, so great you could almost touch it! The image was as unstable as the cabin of the plane flying at low altitude, flying over the countryside and gradually approaching a town.