December 1, 2006
"They read the work of Lilienthal, Langley, and Chanute But the theories of these pioneers In test did not compute So they cleaned the table to the wood And started in again To answer twisting riddles So the sky would let them in."
So go the lyrics of the song Kitty Hawk, December Nineteen-Three, by Livingston Taylor. Raised in North Carolina, the poignantly poetic 55-year-old singer/songwriter/aviator has an understandable draw to the Wright brothers and their work, which put his home state on the map. Now artist in residence at Harvard University and a professor at Boston's Berklee College of Music, Taylor continues to perform throughout the country, and most often flies himself to his engagements in a 1964 Cessna 205A.
Taylor (it's more likely you're familiar with his older brother James) says, "My dream of flight began in 1955 when I was 4 and I saw a television ad for Sugar Jets cereal. This kid ate some, and started flying around the room. I got my mother to buy me a box, went outside so I wouldn't run into anything, and ate a few. Absolutely nothing happened. I was devastated. But the seed was sown."
More conventional flight training began in 1990 at Hanscom Field outside Boston. Taylor acquired his private certificate and instrument rating, then selected the big Continental-powered Cessna as his airplane. "It's a simple, strong hauler. I have a house on Martha's Vineyard and travel back and forth from Boston, always with a ton of stuff. It's a friendly airplane — and someone wisely welded the landing gear down in place, figuring that someday I might own it and be apt to forget to put it down."
Taylor flies between 200 and 250 hours a year, and says he is "constantly" undergoing recurrent training. "I'm a good enough pilot to know that I'm not that good. I'm rough on the controls compared with the great pilots I know; a ham 'n' egger in that way. I am very careful about not exceeding my limitations."
Asked how flying has affected his art and his life, Taylor answers like the poet he is. "Normally, we're bottom feeders in the ocean of air above us. Flying allows us an overview of this remarkable and beautiful planet. It's the ultimate reaffirmation not only of the human experience but also the life experience."
Taylor was moved by the methodical nature of the Wright brothers, and how fastidious they were. "They were able to recognize that to be the first to fly, the most important thing was to stay alive long enough to be the first to fly."
Like most pilots — especially those with Carolina in their minds — Taylor visited First Flight Airport on the Outer Banks, where he was inspired to write the lyrics for Kitty Hawk, December Nineteen-Three.
Livingston Taylor Â©2002 L. Taylor/Morgan Creek Music (ASCAP)
We can fly We can soar into the air Look into forever And find the future there. Spread your wings You're about to be free Kitty Hawk, December, Nineteen-three.
What a time for human kind What an era to be in. Electric light to push back night Einstein in Berlin Edison and movies Fords rolling wheels Rockafellas energy Morgan's ruthless deals. Big men chewing big cigars And chewing through the land Destiny was manifest Fate was in their hands. Add to this mix Two earnest quiet men With their sister Katherine The adventure did begin. In the hubris that was the time They decided they could try To build a heavier than air machine And climb into the sky.
And they could fly..........
They read the work of Lilienthal Langley and Chanute. But the theories of these pioneers In test did not compute. So they cleaned the table to the wood And started in again To answer twisting riddles So the sky would let them in. They found a place to test their thoughts Off the coast of Caroline Private and remote Windy all the time. They learned of lift and drag and thrust And wind-tunneled everything. The delicate pitch of the canard The roll of warping wings. And the rudder was the final piece That late one night they saw The triad that became flight Pitch, roll, yaw.
And they could fly...........
The morning comes the wind is right The plane is on the rail And Daniel's camera sees the moment pass. For twelve small seconds They fly across the sands And the end of an ancient dream Is here at last.
It's a hundred years later But imagine what's in store As we tug on God's great beard And tap upon his door. To the truth that lives in space We have set our sights Standing on their shoulders Wilbur and Orville Wright.
And we can fly...............
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