Today In History: The Wright Brothers First Flight December 17, 1903

Very few Americans in our modern era name their children Wilbur or Orville, but, way back at the beginning of the 20th century, two young men with old fashioned first names managed to help change the world forever. On the history making date of December 17, 1903, Wilbur and Orville Wright completed the first successful flight of a self-propelled, heavier-than-air aircraft. The plane was piloted by Orville, stayed in the air for all of 12 seconds, and flew a distance of 120 feet. They covered less than half the length of a football field, but mankind leaped into the future.

Over the next few years, the Wright Brothers continued to improve and refine their flying machine and their skills. Soon they were able to fly circles around the field and stay in the air for 30 minutes or more. Remarkably, the two brothers only flew together once. Their father made them promise never to fly together to make sure that if a fatal accident occurred, one brother would remain to continue their work. On May 25, 1910, Milton Wright gave his sons his blessing to make a single flight together, and the Wrights soared side by side for six minutes. They landed safely, and, for the rest of their lives , they kept their oath never to risk a double tragedy by flying together again.

Wilbur Wright died of typhoid fever at 45 years of age on May 30, 1912. Orville lived long enough to fly on a Lockheed Constellation. On April 19, 1944, millionaire eccentric and aviation pioneer, Howard Hughes, took the dapper old gent for a spin around Wright Field at over 300 miles per hour.

Orville Wright, who lived from the era of the horse and buggy all the way to the supersonic age, passed away on January 30, 1948. He was 76 years old, and he is buried next to his brother Wilbur in the family plot at Woodland Cemetery, Dayton, Ohio

It is hard to imagine going from a 40 yard first flight to General Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier for the first time on October 14, 1947 in a highly unstable experimental X-1 aircraft named Glamorous Glennis (Yeager’s wife’s first name). More amazing still is the progress from the Wright Brother’s Wright Flyer 1 to Neil Armstrong and Edwin Buzz Aldrin Jr. landing on the moon with Apollo 11 while Michael Collins orbited patiently above in the command module.

Yet that is what the human spirit has achieved since a windy day in 1903 outside Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Two quiet men, with limited formal education and a unique understanding of machinery, worked in the back of their bicycle shop and helped send mankind to the stars. It is a true testimony to the indomitable will of our species.

Over the last few days, our nation suffered an unspeakable tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut when 20 children were torn away forever by a madman. Let us not live in despair but dream our dreams of flight and reach for the stars. When the weight of the world is pressing you to the ground, think instead of the Wright Brothers, who left the bounds of the earth and flew on the wings of eagles.

The Planes Of The Wright Brothers