AOPA Pilot Magazine
- Dec. 19 Kitty Hawk the day after
- Dec. 17 Kitty Hawk wind dies, thwarting first Wright Flyer reenactment
- Dec. 16 Revised Kitty Hawk Presidential TFR slams the door on GA
- Dec. 16 Cable, broadcast networks plan extensive coverage of 100th anniversary
- Dec. 11 AOPA one of the largest First Flight Centennial official sponsors
- July 23 Pilots flock to First Flight and the AOPA Pilot Facility during aviation's centennial
- May 11 Happy Mother's Day, Mrs. Wright
- May 10 AOPA Pilot Facility opens at Wright Brothers National Memorial
- May 6 Pilots invited to fly-in for Saturday's Wright Brothers Pilot Facility Grand Opening
- May 2 Wright Brothers Memorial Pilot Facility grand opening next weekend
- Apr. 24 Wright Bros. Memorial Pilot Facility Grand Opening Fly-in May 10
- Apr. 10 AOPA comes to the aid of official Wright Flyer replica
- Jan. 27 AOPA Pilot Facility nears completion
- Nov. 18, 2002 AOPA-funded First Flight pilot facility construction on track
- Nov. 4, 2002 Work on First Flight Pilot Center progressing
- Sept. 16, 2002 AOPA donates new Pilot Facility in honor of Wright brothers' 100th Anniversary of Powered Flight
AOPA Pilot articles
- "President's Position: The next 100 years," December 2003
- "Pilot Briefing: Flying machine operators wanted," November 2003
- "AOPA's Centennial of Flight Sweepstakes: Waco on Tour," October 2003
- "Hanging Around," September 2003
- "Pilot Briefing: Warp: Control from past to future," August 2003
- "Airframe and Powerplant: Tried and True," July 2003
- "Wind tunnel unlocked the secrets of flight," June 2003
- "Pilots: Tom Crouch," May 2003
- "Postcards: Inventing Flight," April 2003
- "Postcards: Cruising the Outer Banks," March 2003
- "Celebrating the past, ensuring your future," February 2003
- "The Wright power," January 2003
AOPA's Centennial of Flight Sweepstakes
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This month in GA
With a short dash down the runway, the machine lifted into the air and was flying. It was only a flight of twelve seconds, and it was uncertain, wavy, creeping sort of flight at best; but it was a real flight at last. Orville Wright
December 8, 1903. On its second and final trial, the Langley airplane, designed by Dr. Samuel Langley and piloted by Charles Manly, crashes as it launches from a houseboat on the Potomac River in Washington, D.C. Manly dies from injuries received in the crash.
December 17, 1903. Orville Wright flies for 12 seconds more than 120 feet in the first human-controlled powered flight, at Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina. (Wilbur Wright had tried three days earlier and failed to get airborne. He makes a second flight that day, covering a distance of 852 feet in 59 seconds.)
December 28, 1908. Matthew Sellers flies a quadraplane powered by an eight-horsepower Dutheil-Chalmers motor. The aircraft is the country's first civil airplane designed and advertised for personal use.
December 16, 1912. The first postage stamp depicting an airplane is issued. It is a 20-cent parcel post stamp.
December 31, 1938. A Boeing 307 Stratoliner is the first pressurized airliner to go into service.
December 1, 1941. The Civil Air Patrol is established, one week before the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
December 22, 1945. The Beechcraft Model 35 Bonanza takes its first flight.
December 4, 1958. John Cook and Robert Timm take off from McCarran Airfield in Las Vegas in a Cessna 172 and, with in-flight refueling, remain aloft for 64 days, 22 hours, 19 minutes, and 5 seconds more than two months in continual flight. They land at McCarran on February 7, 1959.
December 6, 1959. U.S. Navy Cmdr. Lawrence E. Flint attains an altitude record of 98,556 feet in a McDonnell XF4H-1.
December 10, 1963. Charles "Chuck" Yeager makes the first emergency ejection in a full-pressure suit, parachuting 8,500 feet while testing an NF-104 rocket-augmented aerospace trainer.
December 23, 1987. Voyager completes the first nonstop, non-refueled flight around the world. Constructed almost entirely of lightweight graphite-honeycomb composite materials and laden with fuel, Voyager lifts off from Edwards Air Force Base, California, at 8:01 a.m. on December 14, 1987. It returns nine days later at 8:05 a.m.
Centennial of Flight calendar of events
Through December 20. Atterbury-Bakalar Air Museum, Columbus, Indiana. "Century of Flight Timeline." 812/372-1382
Through December 31. World Kite Museum, Long Beach, Washington. "How the Kite Invented the Airplane." 360/642-4020; www.worldkitemuseum.com
Through December 31. College Park Aviation Museum, College Park, Maryland. "Thirty Years and Still Flying: College Park Airport." 301/864-6029; www.collegeparkaviationmuseum.com
Through December 31. Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. Aviation Art Exhibit; www.wpafb.af.mil/museum/
Through December 31. Various locations, Chicago, Illinois. "12 Seconds That Changed the World." 773/686-7496; www.chicagocentennialofflight.org
Through December 31. Outer Banks History Center, Manteo, North Carolina. "Pushing the Limits: Aviation Flight Research." 252/473-2655; www.firstflightcentennial.org
Through February 8, 2004. The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois. "Aerospace Design: An Exhibition on Wind Tunnels." 312/443-3949; www.artic.edu
Through February 20, 2004. Museum of Flight, Seattle, Washington. "The Birth of Aviation." 206/764-5720; www.museumofflight.org
Through March 4, 2004. Virginia Air & Space Center, Hampton, Virginia. 1903 Wright Flyer replica on display. 757/727-0900; www.vasc.org
Through May 30, 2004. Orlando Science Center, Orlando, Florida. "Touch the Sky" Celebration. 407/514-2024; www.osc.org
Through December 31, 2005. Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Washington, D.C. "The Wright Brothers and the Invention of the Aerial Age." 202/633-2374; www.nasm.si.edu
The next 100 years
AOPA President Phil Boyer serves more than 400,000 general aviation enthusiasts.
As most of you read this, the 100th anniversary of the Wright brothers' first powered flight will be upon us. Many will take this as an opportunity to look back and celebrate. And there is much to celebrate. At 10:35 on the morning of December 17, 1903, powered flight was still just a dream. Twelve seconds later, it became a reality. Less than a quarter-century later, planes could cross the Atlantic in a single hop. In less than half a century, speeds increased to allow flight faster than the speed of sound. What we now call general aviation has gone from the daredevil barnstorming days of "The Great Waldo Pepper" to safe, reliable, fun transportation that takes families on vacation, sales representatives to far-flung territories, and busy executives to meetings hundreds of miles away and home again in a single day.
But while everyone is looking back and celebrating, as your AOPA president it seems incumbent upon me to look ahead and ponder.
The obstacles the pioneers of aviation's first hundred years faced were largely those of technology, yet general aviation's obstacles in the next hundred years may well be those of regulation and public perception.
As they lifted off that December morning, Orville and Wilbur Wright could have had no idea of the daunting array of rules and regulations pilots a century later would face. Federal Aviation Regulations Part 91 alone, which governs most of the flying we general aviation pilots do, runs more than 60 closely typed double-columned pages.
Every pilot has to pass stringent medical examinations to be eligible to fly. The knowledge and skills a prospective airman has to demonstrate to get a private pilot certificate would make a 16-year-old trying to get a driver's license blanch. There are classes of airspace, communications requirements, and since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, pop-up flight restrictions that carry dire consequences for violators.
Since AOPA was founded 64 years ago, your association has worked tirelessly to protect GA pilots from overly intrusive or burdensome regulations. That work has become even more important in the heightened security environment of the past two years. But we haven't been content to stand still. Recently we added new leadership to our AOPA Legislative Affairs office on Capitol Hill. Four full-time lobbyists work to make sure our nation's legislators consider and understand general aviation when setting policy. Back at your AOPA headquarters we've reorganized our Airports department and, after the devastating loss of Chicago's Meigs Field in March, won a major victory last month in St. Petersburg, Florida. It was another case of a mayor wanting to turn the 75-year-old waterfront airport, Albert Whitted Field, into a park. Our efforts relied heavily on new job alignments to allow a high-level AOPA manager to work on special airport problems and devote the time and resources necessary to work with local groups and win! Our airport "SWAT" team had less than 30 days to get St. Petersburg residents to vote no on a park and yes on keeping the local airport.
AOPA is the only aviation organization in the country with a full-time staff member assigned to do nothing but work on the technical standards and operational needs for future equipment for lightplane cockpits. With the title of senior director of advanced technology, this AOPA employee's job is to see what's on the drawing board and guide its development. AOPA works with manufacturers and regulators to make sure that GA pilots reap the benefits of new technology without being required to add expensive avionics unless they provide a user benefit.
As your representative I often find myself being far too reactive in efforts to avert some unneeded regulation or fee. As we begin the next hundred years AOPA must become more proactive. AOPA's Airport Watch program (www.aopa.org/airportwatch/), which brings the basic concepts of a neighborhood watch to face growing calls for GA airport security measures, is a prime example of doing something proactive, rather than waiting to react.
Trying to explain to a nonflier the term general aviation is both deceptively easy and frustratingly hard. You can say that GA is all aviation except for military and scheduled air carriers, but that hardly helps the nonflier understand the true scope of GA. That's why AOPA launched the GA Serving America Web site (www.gaservingamerica.org). From law enforcement to aerial application (crop-dusting), medevac to overnight delivery, GA Serving America explains all aspects of general aviation.
As we move forward into the second century of powered flight, it's going to be up to all of us to protect our interests as general aviation pilots. I pledge that AOPA will continue to look for innovative solutions to problems before they occur. What it comes down to is this: If we don't do a better job of educating the general public about general aviation and how they benefit from this form of air transportation, then we're going to spend all our time putting out fires instead of lighting the way for the next generation of pilots. I doubt any of us will be around to celebrate the second century of powered flight, but you and your association, working together, can certainly work toward a better understanding of general aviation in the first decades of the next hundred years.
Up in the Air With Orville
First flight in the Wright machine
BY TOM SIMMONS (From AOPA Pilot, December 2003.)
There are many ways to "catch the flying bug." One of the most common occurs when a pilot offers a nonpilot a ride in his airplane. If this ever happened to you (since you're reading AOPA Pilot today) chances are good that you said, "You bet!" Chances are also good that the pilot was certified by the FAA and his airplane was a certificated airframe.
So imagine, for a moment, the same situation but with slightly altered circumstances. Imagine that the pilot has never taken a flying lesson in his life and knows nothing about aerodynamics other than what he has taught himself through trial and error. Imagine that the airplane is home-built, the most recent in a succession of airframes built by this self-taught pilot because he keeps modifying the control system and all his previous airplanes have been destroyed in flying accidents. And finally, imagine that the seat you are offered is a wooden chair bolted to the wing, without cockpit or cowling surrounding it, and not even a seat belt to hold you in place. Still interested?
I know of a man who said, "You bet!" under the exact circumstances I've just described. He was my great-uncle, Arthur Ruhl, a feature writer for Collier's Weekly in the early decades of the twentieth century. And the pilot who took him for his first thrill ride was Orville Wright.
The story begins in May 1908. The Wright brothers had returned to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, to test a two-man machine built according to contract specifications for the Army Signal Corps. My great-uncle was one of six journalists watching surreptitiously from a stand of trees a half-mile away. At the time, the Wrights were still secretive about their invention and refused to fly in front of witnesses (which fueled doubts about their claims of successful flights) so the journalists stayed out of sight.
They watched two flights, including the first two-man flight the Wrights had ever attempted. As Uncle Arthur's article in the May 30 edition of Collier's describes it: "A hundred yards away, the great bird swung to the right and swept grandly by, broadside on. Some cows grazing on the beach grass threw their heads upward, and whirling about, galloped away in terror ahead of the approaching machine. It swept on far above them indifferently, approached the sand hills three-quarters of a mile to the left, rose to them, soared over and down the other side."
Uncle Arthur was clearly thrilled by what he saw. He sent a copy of his article, "History at Kill Devil Hill," to the Wright brothers and received a warm reply from Orville. "I thought your account of the maneuverings of the newspaper men at Kill Devil Hills the most interesting thing I have ever seen concerning our experiments," Orville wrote. Pretty high praise.
Perhaps it was these kind words from Orville that emboldened my uncle to make his next contact in September 1908. Orville was then in Washington, D.C., flying the acceptance trials for the Army, and on September 9 he had taken up his first passenger. Uncle Arthur wrote him and asked to be taken up for a flight. Orville's handwritten reply appears on Cosmos Club stationery.
Sep. 14, 1908
My dear Mr. Ruhl:
I have your letter, and I am sure it would give me great pleasure to take you up with me in our machine, but I have had so many requests that I hardly see how I can take you without giving offense to others. I am limiting the number of passengers to the Army officials at present. I am sorry that you were not able to remain to see some of the flights, but hope you may be able to come down again.
Very truly yours
Strong winds prevented Orville from flying for several days. On September 17, his next flight after writing my uncle, Orville took Lt. Thomas Selfridge up as his passenger. One of the propellers separated, sliced a guy wire, and caused the machine to crash. Selfridge was killed.
A more timid man might have abandoned his hopes of flying right then and there. But not Arthur Ruhl. When Orville recovered from injuries sustained in the accident and returned to work in May 1909, he found a letter waiting for him. Uncle Arthur still wanted to take a flight. Orville again refused.
Orville wrote back: We shall not be able to make any flights before we go to Washington, and once we get to work there we shall have to devote every flight to teaching our pupils. Besides if we take one passenger we will be besieged with requests from people whom it will be almost impossible to refuse. You will readily see how much embarrassment it will make us if we begin to take passengers. It would give us pleasure to take you for a little spin, in recompense for the suffering you endured, on "the firing line" but we do not see how we can do it. We shall be glad to see you in Washington if you find it convenient to be there while we are at work on our government contract.
But that's not the end of the story. In 1910, the Wrights decided to enter the exhibition business. Americans weren't buying airplanes but they were paying to watch others fly them. So the real money in aviation was out on the flying circuit. In order to compete in as many events as possible, Orville started training pilots for the Wright brothers team. Instruction was conducted at Huffman Prairie, a hummocky pasture eight miles outside of Dayton. And once again, Arthur Ruhl was there to cover the story for Collier's Weekly.
For a nonpilot writing in 1910, Uncle Arthur's understanding of aerodynamics was impressive. In the Collier's article, he writes: "One of the first things to learn, of course, is that the air isn't the simple homogeneous medium it seems to be. It boils and shifts and swirls as current fights tide, and the aeroplane is sailing, not across the stream, but through it.
"Take, for instance, this peaceful cow pasture on a bright June morning. The sky is an even blue and the solitary tree across the field seems drenched in slumbering sunshine. Yet, as a matter of fact, any one of many interesting things are happening near that tree. Maybe the air is streaking up from it as it would streak up a chimney flue, or swirling round it as water swirls around a rock, and if you are flying into the wind and at the tree, the wind may come pouring down over it and upon you like an invisible waterfall."
Uncle Arthur also seems to have understood the Wrights' control system pretty well. "The wings and vertical rudder work together in their machine. The same pull which depresses the left wing-tip and increases its angle of incidence gives it a firmer grip on the air, so to say lifts the right wing-tip and lightens its grip accordingly; at the same time the rear rudder turns to the right, thus tending to counteract the combined drag and lift of the wings and bring the machine back to an even keel."
Uncle Arthur watched Orville train his students until the sun edged toward the horizon. "And then he gave an invitation which had been sought ever since a baking spring morning two years ago, when six weary and tick-bitten correspondents rowed, waded, tramped, and crawled for several hours to a spot under Kill Devil Hill and there saw the Wright machine in successful flight across the Kitty Hawk sands. 'You're elected,' said Orville and I climbed in.
"The passenger's seat in the Wright machine is in the middle. The engine is at his right, and the driver is at his left, so that the balance is the same whether an extra man is carried or not. You sit on a small wooden seat with a back, grasp one of the uprights with your right hand, and rest your feet on a cross-bar. Although not fastened in, one is pretty safely caged by a guy-wire, which passes diagonally across and close to one's chest."
Thus seated, wearing a three-piece suit and jaunty cap, Uncle Arthur headed for the heavens.
"Curious and rather uncanny air trends strike the machine more or less continually as it flies. From the way it vibrates, from the little flapping pennant in front, most of all from an instinct which can only be acquired by experience, the veteran knows pretty well what is happening and how to meet it. But as the novice feels himself suddenly boosted up or dropped with a sensation much like that felt when an elevator suddenly drops or rises, he can only sit tight and trust the man beside him.
"And it was up here, about three hundred feet in the air, that Orville treated me to the only maneuver which a regular bird-man could, I suppose, have regarded as remotely in the nature of an adventure. For any one tired of life and listlessly seeking a new sensation, I can thoroughly recommend it. Just get the Wrights to take you up a few hundred feet, and then as you hang there above the abyss, like a lamb in a condor's claws, bring the great bird up standing and stiffly 'banked,' swing it around in a diameter of, say, two hundred feet."
Imagine that. Uncle Arthur, sitting on a seat with no seat belt, up in the air for the first time in his life, flying at about the height of a 30-story building and Orville puts the plane into a tight banked turn. I don't know how you would have felt and I'm not sure how I would have felt. But my great-uncle loved it! His article, titled "Up in the Air With Orville," is filled with his joy from the experience.
"Thus we slid down, faster than ever now, with the wind blowing the tears out of our eyes; and just before touching ground came up with exquisite ease and went skimming round the field just tickling the weed tops. It was now that we seemed, indeed, to be going like the wind a wonderful sensation, like nothing else, so near to the earth, yet spurning it. Twice around the field we went, keeping an even distance from the ground, as if on an invisible track, and then Orville shut off the engine and we slid down upon the grass just as a duck on the wing slides into water." Wow.
Arthur Ruhl died in 1935 and his files were packed into boxes that went into storage for more than 60 years. I recently came into possession of his papers, which include both articles for Collier's, three letters from Orville Wright, and a note from Katherine Wright, the brothers' sister, thanking Arthur for some sweet peas he brought to dinner at the Wrights' home on Hawthorne Street in Dayton.
Tom Simmons of Waterford, Virginia, is an ultralight pilot and screenwriter.
The Wright Weather
BY THOMAS A. HORNE (From AOPA Pilot, December 2003.)
"Success four flights Thursday morning all against twenty one mile wind started from Level with engine power alone average speed through air thirty-one miles longest 57 second inform press home Christmas Orville Wright." This famous century-old telegram from the Wright brothers to their father in Dayton may have been the world's first informal METAR. Right up front, where it ranks in importance, Orville emphasizes the wind's role in the historic first flights.
Although it is often documented obliquely, we can ascertain from the historical record that the Wrights must certainly have been preoccupied with surface winds. From their earliest kite-flying experiments in the summer of 1899 they knew that a steady headwind made for the best flights. Too little wind and the airfoils wouldn't sustain flight. Too much, or too variable in direction and speed, and the wind would render the kite uncontrollable. For the Wrights' early aircraft, the wind was both creator and destroyer.
By summer's end the Wrights had determined that wing-warping held great promise for lateral control. But there was a problem: The winds in Dayton were too changeable. Wind shifts frequently sent their kites racing to terra firma. A better test site had to be found, one with steady winds averaging 16 miles per hour, one that was so isolated the Wrights could fly in secrecy, and one that had forgiving terrain in case of crashes. From the outset, these characteristics argued for a beach. At the dawn of the twentieth century most beaches were lonely, hardscrabble places perfect for avoiding prying eyes. And as is still the case, onshore breezes were the rule.
Octave Chanute, a well-known railroad engineer with an interest in flight and an early advisor to the Wrights, suggested San Diego or Pine Island, Florida, as possible locations but he worried about the lack of sand dunes. Maybe the Atlantic coasts of South Carolina or Georgia would be better.
On November 27, 1899, the Wrights wrote to the U.S. Weather Bureau for information about suitable flying sites. On December 4, Willis L. Moore, chief of the Weather Bureau, sent the Wrights data on wind velocities in various parts of the nation. He enclosed copies of the Bureau's Monthly Weather Review for August and September 1899.
The Wrights scoured maps of the Atlantic coast and noticed that the U.S. Coast Guard maintained stations at seven-mile intervals along North Carolina's Outer Banks; some had weather reporting capabilities. And there were sand dunes in the Kitty Hawk area.
On August 3, 1900, a letter was sent to Joseph J. Dosher of the Kitty Hawk Weather Bureau station, inquiring about conditions there. Dosher responded on August 16, mentioning plentiful sand dunes, a one-mile-wide beach clear of trees, and north and northeasterly winds. There were no houses to rent, he added, so the Wrights would have to bring a tent.
Dosher showed the Wrights' letter to a neighbor, William J. Tate. Tate took it upon himself to contact the Wrights in an August 18 letter. Tate made a sort of sales pitch, and went into greater detail than Dosher had. He spoke of a stretch of sand one mile wide and five miles long, with an 80-foot hill in the middle and no bushes or trees to break the wind flow. "You can reach here from Elizabeth City, N.C., direct from Manteo 12 miles from here by mail boat every Mon., Wed., and Friday," he wrote. Board was available too, if there weren't too many in the party. Then he offered his help in providing for the Wrights' success.
That did it. After reading the letter the Wrights settled on Kitty Hawk.
The Wrights' personal introduction to the winds of the Outer Banks came with Wilbur's first trip to Kitty Hawk in September 1900. He boarded a leaky, tattered, flat-bottomed schooner at Elizabeth City, bound for the wharf at Kitty Hawk. The trip started out uneventfully, but a gale came up. It ripped the mainsail loose, waves broke over the bow, all hands set to bailing, and the ship nearly ran aground. A rattled Wilbur landed two days later at Kitty Hawk.
The wind showed its ugly side during that first summer of glider testing. Many days, the winds blew stronger than expected, frequently exceeding 30 mph. Wind-blown sand invaded the Wrights' living and working areas the entire time of their experiments. On October 10 the glider was upset by a gust of wind. After three days of repairs, it was flying again. The Wrights left Kitty Hawk on October 23, leaving the glider behind. When they returned in July 1901 they found the glider destroyed by a 93-mph gale. And the wind had lowered the summit of the launching dune by 25 feet.
Days-long spells of high winds and rain marked the 1901 flying season, but in 1902 the Wrights had five "perfect days" of gliding, according to their notes. In two days more than 250 glides were made, Orville wrote his sister. "We had a wind of about 16 meters per second or about 30 miles an hour and glided in it without any trouble. That was the highest wind a machine was ever in, so that now we hold all kinds of records." Between September 19 and October 24, another "700 to 1,000" glides were made, according to a diary.
The historic 1903 season, of course, was also marked by adverse conditions. Upon their arrival in September, the Wrights found the previous season's storage shed blown off its foundation by winter winds. A new one had to be built. On October 18 a four-day-long "cyclone" set in, setting new records for wind velocity and running five ships aground. The Outer Banks' reputation as the "graveyard of the Atlantic" is well deserved.
At one point the wind was so bad that the roof of the Wrights' building started to give way. To prevent further damage, Orville went out in the wind and rain, then climbed up a ladder to nail down some loose boards. Wilbur steadied the ladder and became annoyed at Orville's slow progress. Later, Orville explained that the wind was so strong it blew the hammer around; three out of four blows hit the roof or his fingers instead of the nails.
The morning of December 17, the Wrights ventured from their shed and checked the wind. According to some accounts, they had a small portable anemometer that Octave Chanute had given them. The anemometer read between 22 and 27 mph. This would be a high wind for the Flyer, so the brothers were cautious. They rechecked the wind every five minutes until 10 o'clock. It was still blowing hard. The weather had worsened overnight, and now there was an overcast. One account mentioned the air being almost empty of birds.
As they waited, hoping for the wind to slacken, wind whistled through the cracks in the shed's boards, sending sand inside. The next turn at flying was Orville's. He said he was willing to take a chance, in spite of the wind.
Before every flying session, the Wrights would run up a signal flag, visible to the nearby Coast Guard lifesaving station. This was also a signal to the rest of the inhabitants to come gawk at the goings-on.
Temperatures and wind chills were so low that the brothers had to return to the shed to warm their hands as they laid the track to transport the Flyer to its launch site. The wind whistled through the craft's wire bracing.
The four flights that followed changed the world. But the wind had the last word.
The last flight Wilbur's, and the longest, lasting 59 seconds while covering 852 feet (Orville's telegram was off by two seconds) ended with a hard landing and a cracked elevator. The Flyer was carried back to camp and set down in the open. There would be two more days of repair work to the elevator, then it would be Orville's turn at the controls.
The Wrights and the locals who had come to watch were huddled in a group, talking, as the wind rose above an estimated 30 mph. There was a shout of alarm. All turned toward the Flyer. Some ran to it.
A gust of wind had lifted the Flyer and thrown it backwards. Wilbur tried to grab a skid to stop it from overturning, but he couldn't hold on. A local, John Daniels, said that the Flyer "tumbled like an umbrella turned inside-out and loose in the wind." Daniels tried to jump out of the Flyer's way, but ended up between the wings, ensnared by the wire bracing.
The Flyer went end over end. "I can't tell to save my life," Daniels reportedly said, "how it all happened, but I found myself caught up in them wires, and the machine blowing across the beach and heading for the ocean, landing first on one end and then the other, rolling over and over, and me getting tangled up in it all the time. When the thing did stop for a second I nearly broke up every wire and upright getting out of it."
The Wrights walked the four or five miles to the nearest Coast Guard weather station to send the historic telegram. The weather station's recording anemometer would provide the official wind observations for the time of the flights. The anemometer, manufactured by the Julien P. Friez company of Baltimore, marked the winds as coming from the northeast at 21 knots. (Friez's company, The Belfort Instrument Company, exists today. The company was renamed after the Belfort Observatory in Baltimore, which Friez founded.)
The wind direction and velocity for Kitty Hawk on December 17, 1903, are the only accurate, empirical records of that day's weather. Remember, the U.S. Weather Bureau (the precursor to today's National Weather Service) hadn't been established until 1870. Before then, simultaneous surface weather observations weren't collected or communicated. As for synoptic meteorology, at the time of the Wrights' first flight meteorologists were still searching for some mechanism that would explain why certain cloud and precipitation types were associated with storms. The concept of fronts, low-pressure models, storm circulations, and interactions of air masses of different densities wouldn't come until 1919, when Norwegian meteorologists gave us the modern theories that endure today.
Without today's observational and analytical advantages, what can we say about the synoptic situation at Kitty Hawk 100 years ago? Very little. It amounts to guesswork, so guesses (educated, of course) are in order.
Strong winds are common along the Outer Banks, especially in the winter months. On one visit to Kill Devil Hills (an adjoining town that's the true location of the first flight) I was told that many overwintering natives get in the habit of playing their radios at high volume. Keeps the wind's howl from getting on your nerves, they say.
What about the wind's direction from the northeast? A nor'easter a low-pressure system off the coast could explain that. But while there's mention of overcast skies, there was apparently no precipitation, something that nearly always accompanies coastal storms. The "cyclone" of October 18, on the other hand, almost certainly was a coastal storm of the nor'easter variety.
A "dry" nor'easter might explain the wind, but not the overcast. A dry nor'easter is really a high-pressure system located off the coast and to the north. It's the clockwise flow off the southerly quadrants of the high that brings strong northeasterly winds to Atlantic shores. There's strong wind, but relatively cloud-free skies.
Was it a post-cold-frontal situation? Not likely. Winds would have been out of the westerly or northwesterly points of the compass. Post-warm-front? Nope. Winds would have been out of the south. Pre-warm-front? Maybe, if the parent low were to the southwest. The counterclockwise flow around the low would have brought strong winds to bear on Kitty Hawk. And the uniform overcast explains what sounds like a high stratus layer something typical of pre-warm-front conditions.
I favor the dry nor'easter or pre-warm-front explanations. In the end, however, it doesn't really matter. The weather was what it was. In those days, you looked up and made your move. What mattered that day was that two optimistic low-time pilots decided to take a chance and launch into stiff winds, knowing that they'd need all the skill and luck they could muster, and knowing that the wind might deal them a bad hand. In that, today's pilots have a lot in common with the Wrights. We just need less luck. Some of us, anyway.
E-mail the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kitty Hawk the day after
AOPA Pilot Facility draws kudos
Dec. 19 Thursday, December 18, dawned clear and windy over the sands of Kill Devil Hills and the Wright Brothers National Memorial a day that would have been perfect for the Wright brothers or those attempting to reenact their flight. Aviators have always been subject to the whims of weather. The park was closed as crews began tearing down the stage, tents, and other temporary structures constructed for the tens of thousands of visitors. In a few days, the park will return to its wind-swept solitude.
But some things of permanence remain. For one day, at least, the American public thought about aviation. And AOPA will be building on that window of opportunity to tell the public more about general aviation with a series of television ads.
The other is the AOPA Pilot Facility.
In photo: The AOPA Centennial of Flight Sweepstakes Waco frames the Wright brothers' monument atop Kill Devil Hill.
Kitty Hawk wind dies, thwarting first Wright Flyer reenactment
Update: Dec. 17 Rain and lack of wind forced a delay in today's attempt to recreate the Wright brothers' first flight at Kill Devil Hills. The winds picked up at about noon Eastern time but diminished as the Wright Flyer was making its takeoff run, denying the reenactors their flight. By early afternoon, the Flyer's condition was being evaluated to decide whether or not to try again today.
Even though the crowd of thousands did not get to see a full reenactment of that first flight a hundred years ago, they were excited by the attempt and gave pilot Kevin Kochersberger a grateful round of applause.
[Read more about AOPA's contributions to the Centennial of Flight celebrations.]
In photo: Wright Flyer replica after first attempted flight.
Revised Kitty Hawk Presidential TFR slams the door on GA
Dec. 16 Security officials' decision to make the Presidential movement TFRs (temporary flight restrictions) at the Wright Brothers National Memorial effective at 7 a.m. local time on Wednesday has effectively barred any general aviation pilots from flying in to attend the Centennial of Flight celebrations.
"If the original TFRs were ironic, these updated times are outrageous," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "They begin before sunrise and slam the door on the two closest airports to virtually all Part 91 pilots. Certainly the President deserves protection when he travels. But because his security personnel continue to insist on demanding oversized TFRs, the inheritors of the Wright Brothers' legacy America's pilots are being penalized."
[Read more about AOPA's contributions to the Centennial of Flight celebrations.]
In photo: Wright Brothers National Memorial, Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina.
Cable, broadcast networks plan extensive coverage of 100th anniversary
Dec. 16 Those who are unable to make it to Kill Devil Hills for tomorrow's 100th anniversary of powered flight celebrations will still have ample opportunity to see it live. Hundreds of media credentials have been issued for this week's events.
"Unlike a century ago, when the Wright brothers went to North Carolina for secrecy, the world will be watching this December 17," said AOPA President Phil Boyer.
Both C-SPAN and NASA-TV are planning live coverage of the commemoration. Each is expected to offer webcast coverage, as well.
AOPA one of the largest First Flight Centennial official sponsors
Dec. 11 As thousands gather at Kill Devil Hills this week to celebrate the 100th anniversary of powered flight, AOPA members will be well represented with one of the largest contributions to the Wright Brothers National Memorial. While AOPA will be joining other exhibitors with temporary aviation displays, as an Official First Flight Centennial Sponsor, AOPA's major contribution will have a lasting impact.
"Our contribution is about ensuring the future and inspiring the next generations of aviators," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "AOPA members have given the nation a state-of-the-art pilot facility at First Flight Airfield right next to the Wright Brothers Memorial, which will serve generations of pilots and visitors to come."
AOPA members' donation of the pilot facility is one of the largest contributions to the anniversary celebration and the only new structure that will remain after the celebration is complete. Pilots who visit the facility from now on are invited to "sign" an online guest registry and receive a certificate from AOPA commemorating their visit to aviation's hallowed sands.
In photo: AOPA's Centennial of Flight Sweepstakes UPF-7 and the member-donated Pilot Facility hightlight AOPA's exhibit at this week's Wright brothers celebration.
Pilots flock to First Flight and the AOPA Pilot Facility during aviation's centennial
July 23 Hundreds of pilots have made the pilgrimage to First Flight Airport (FFA) at Kill Devil Hills, N.C. in the two months since the AOPA-sponsored Pilot Facility opened there.
Among those who made the trip earlier this month was AOPA member Dan Collier. It was his second trip this year. He attended the grand opening ceremony for the Pilot Facility on May 10 and won the drawing for a leather Centennial of Flight bomber jacket.
"It was the first day that work schedule, airplane availability, and weather all lined up to allow a cross country to First Flight," said the Virginia native. "It's a trip worth taking. And thank you, AOPA, for the new Pilot Facility."
In photo: Dan Collier, AOPA 4036890, wearing the AOPA Centennial of Flight bomber jacket he won, in front of First Flight Pilot Facility.
Happy Mother's Day, Mrs. Wright
May 11 On this Mother's Day weekend when AOPA has just paid tribute to Orville and Wilbur Wright by opening a new pilot facility at the site of their historic flight, could anything be more appropriate than to honor the woman who encouraged them: their mother, Susan Koerner Wright.
Susan Catherine Koerner was born in tiny Hillsboro, Va., barely 25 miles southwest of AOPA's headquarters in Frederick, Md. She was the daughter of a carriage maker and loved to spend time in his workshop. She's said to have been very handy with tools.
AOPA Pilot Facility opens at Wright Brothers National Memorial
Pilots fly in from across the country to share in Grand Opening event
May 10, KILL DEVIL HILLS, N.C. An all-new Pilot Facility, sponsored by AOPA on behalf of its members, is now open to assist the nation's pilots who visit the birthplace of powered flight during its centennial year. AOPA donated the funds to construct the 900-square-foot Pilot Facility at the Wright Brothers National Memorial at Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina.
Despite threatening weather to the north and south of First Flight Airfield (FFA), several hundred pilots and visitors from around the country (one from as far as California) flew into the park and another nearby airport to attend the grand opening ceremonies. Speeches, hot dogs, and tours of the Pilot Facility and historical park were the highlights of the day.
"The Wright Brothers came here for the weather," joked AOPA President Phil Boyer as a gust front from an approaching storm swept across the crowd, "and weather is once again making its mark. But let's have a round of applause for the nearly 400,000 AOPA members who have made this first-class facility possible."
In photo: AOPA President Phil Boyer (left) and Wright Brothers National Memorial superintendent Lawrence Belli mount the plaque commerating the Pilot Facility as a "gift from the members of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association."
Pilots invited to fly-in for Saturday's Wright Brothers Pilot Facility Grand Opening
FFA parking full, but plenty of room at MQI
May 6 The limited number of parking spots at First Flight Airfield have already been reserved this morning, but there is plenty of space at nearby Dare County Regional (MQI) Airport at Manteo, North Carolina. And the free shuttle buses will start running at 7 a.m. this Saturday morning to take pilots from MQI to the Wright Brothers National Memorial at Kill Devil Hills for the grand opening of the new Pilot Facility.
The actual festivities will begin at 12:30, and all pilots are invited to fly in to see the new facility donated by AOPA on behalf of its members in honor of the centennial of powered flight, enjoy a free hot dog, take a look at the AOPA Centennial of Flight Sweepstakes Waco UPF-7 biplane, and have a chance to win a Centennial of Flight Sweepstakes leather bomber jacket.
In photo: The Pilot Facility sponsored by AOPA.
Wright Brothers Memorial Pilot Facility grand opening next weekend
AOPA Centennial of Flight Sweepstakes bomber jacket to be given away
May 2 Final preparations are under way for the Pilot Facility Grand Opening and Fly-in celebration May 10 at the Wright Brothers National Memorial at Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina. Attending pilots will receive a special memento of the event and have a chance to win an AOPA Centennial of Flight Sweepstakes leather bomber jacket.
In addition to speeches, hot dogs, and tours, AOPA will also display the classic Centennial of Flight Sweepstakes UPF-7 Waco biplane for the first time in the Mid-Atlantic region.
As parking is very limited at First Flight Airfield (FFA), pilots may land at nearby Dare County Regional Airport (MQI) at Manteo, and take advantage of the free shuttle bus service from the airport to the Wright Brothers National Memorial. (The limited parking spots at FFA will be available by reservation only beginning May 6 at 8:30 a.m.)
Wright Bros. Memorial Pilot Facility Grand Opening Fly-in May 10
All pilots invited to free event on North Carolina's Outer Banks
Apr. 24 AOPA is inviting all pilots to the Pilot Facility Grand Opening and Fly-in Saturday, May 10, at the Wright Brothers National Memorial at Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina. Ceremonies begin at 12:30 p.m. (Because parking is very limited at First Flight Airfield (FFA), pilots are requested to land at nearby Dare County Airport (MQI) at Manteo. Free bus service will be provided to the Wright Brothers Memorial starting at 7 a.m.)
The all-new Pilot Facility is sponsored by AOPA on behalf of its members. It was built in coordination with the National Park Service and First Flight Centennial Foundation and will be the only permanent structure built at the historic site to remain following the Wright Brothers' 100th Anniversary of Powered Flight celebrations this year. The day's celebrations will be hosted by AOPA President Phil Boyer and will include speeches, tours, hot dogs, and other refreshments.
Also featured will be the first public appearance in the Mid-Atlantic region of AOPA's Centennial of Flight Sweepstakes vintage Waco biplane.
AOPA comes to the aid of official Wright Flyer replica
Update: Apr. 10 Thanks to AOPA's quick intervention with the Transportation Security Administration, Ken Hyde and the Wright Experience have a waiver that will allow them to flight test two replicas of Wright Flyers inside the Washington Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ). One of the aircraft on the waiver is the official replica of the 1903 Wright Flyer, which will take part in the Centennial of Flight commemoration in Kitty Hawk in December 2003.
"I must say, AOPA works fast," said Ken Hyde. "AOPA was the first organization that stepped forward to support our work to recreate the Wright brothers' gliders and flying machines. That was October 1998 in Palm Springs during the AOPA Expo. We greatly appreciate it."
In photo: This replica of the Wright brother's 1911 Model B is similar to the flying reproduction that Ken Hyde wants to test fly from his landing strip within the Washington ADIZ.
AOPA Pilot Facility nears completion
Jan. 27 Work on the exterior of AOPA's 900-square-foot Pilot Facility at the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, is nearly complete. Plumbing, heating, air conditioning, and wiring are finished and drywall installation has begun in the interior; it should be complete by the end of February. Then computer systems, a monitor for the new AWOS at First Flight Airfield, and other amenities will be installed. The facility should be fully functional by early spring. AOPA, on behalf of its membership, donated the funds for construction. According to the National Park Service and First Flight Centennial Foundation, the Pilot Facility will be the only permanent structure at the historic site to remain following the 100th Anniversary of Powered Flight celebrations this December.
AOPA-funded First Flight pilot facility construction on track
Nov. 18 Construction crews working on the new pilot facility at First Flight Airfield (FFA) in Kill Devil Hills, N.C., expect to have the structure completed in time for the 99th anniversary of the Wright brothers' first powered flight, on December 17, 2002. It includes full restrooms to replace the portable toilets now available to pilots.
The facility, donated by AOPA and its members, will be the only permanent structure to remain after the centennial celebrations end in December 2003. When fully operational, it will include a pilot work area that includes computerized weather stations and telephones for contacting the local flight service station.
In photo: Construction of the FFA pilot facility is moving along briskly.
Work on First Flight Pilot Center progressing
Nov. 4 Construction continues on schedule for the pilots' center at First Flight Airfield in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina. The pilots' center is funded by AOPA on behalf of its membership to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the Wright brothers' first flight. The building is scheduled to open by the 99th anniversary on December 17, 2002, kicking off a year of commemorative events leading up to the centennial.
In photo: Construction of AOPA-sponsored pilot facility at Kitty Hawk progresses.
AOPA donates new Pilot Facility in honor of Wright brothers' 100th Anniversary of Powered Flight
Sept. 16 AOPA, the National Park Service, and the First Flight Centennial Foundation today broke ground on an all-new Pilot Facility at the Wright Brothers National Memorial at Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina. AOPA donated the funds on behalf of its membership to build the new facility, which will be the only permanent structure built at the historic site to remain following the 2003 100th Anniversary of Powered Flight celebrations.
In photo: Wilbur and Orville Wright reenactors kicked off ceremonies at this morning's groundbreaking for the new Pilot Facility at First Flight Airfield, adjacent to the National Park Service First Flight national monument near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. The AOPA-sponsored 900-square-foot facility will offer shelter, phones, weather information, and restrooms for GA pilots using the airport.