The Gift of Flight

For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return.
Quotation of Leonardo Da Vinci

Flight is a huge part of my life and has been for over 19 years (for those who know me, you’d never guess!). Being both a licensed Private Pilot (1999) and a D-Licensed Skydiver (D18185, October 6, 1991), it’s always been a fascination and dream of mine to visit the site of where man made free, controlled, and sustained flight in the world’s first power-driven heavier-than-air machine. That date in history: December 17, 1903 near the Kill Devil Hills, about four miles south of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina —  the historic launching grounds of Orville and Wilbur Wright’s The Wright Flyer. Although I thought I had known a fair bit of the historical events behind their first flight, I actually discovered today that I knew very little. The history is rich and steeped with amazing FAQs. So much so that the curator of the visitor center spent an hour telling the story of the history of flight, followed by a 40 minute film on the Wright and Tate families. Fascinating info that had us scrambling to try and fit in everything in in just one day. For me, it was compelling and relevant to also walk the grounds, from where each flight was launched onwards to the landing marker of each successful flight — 4 in total on that glorious day. This day was similar in weather to December 17, 1903. The winds howled, the temperatures were extraordinarily low and the visibility was clear with scattered clouds fringing the deep blue skies. Orville’s account of that fourth flight is as follows:

Wilbur started the fourth and last flight at just about 12 o’clock. The first few hundred feet were up and down, as before, but by the time three hundred ft had been covered, the machine was under much better control. The course for the next four or five hundred feet had but little undulation. However, when out about eight hundred feet the machine began pitching again, and, in one of its darts downward, struck the ground. The distance over the ground was measured to be 852 feet; the time of the flight was 59 seconds. The frame supporting the front rudder was badly broken, but the main part of the machine was not injured at all. We estimated that the machine could be put in condition for flight again in about a day or two.

Truly amazing to walk those steps … 852 feet may not seem like a lot, but in those days when no man or woman had ever lifted off of the earth via a manned powered vehicle, 59 seconds was truly a spectacular feat, I believe.

Following the path of the Wright Flyer’s trajectory, we strolled up the Kill Devil Hill to the centenary monument of where a behemoth rudder made of granite, sand, gravel and cement stands tall and proud, witness to the historical importance of Kitty Hawk and aviation. A stunning view of the area and an impressive memorial to the Wright Brothers. So breathtaking and a memory that both slaDE~ and myself will treasure forever!