- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 16, 2003

One hundred years ago today, on a deserted strip of sand at Kitty Hawk, N.C., two awkward-looking brothers made final adjustments to a gawky-looking apparatus of fabric and wire. Neither the creators, who hailed from Dayton, Ohio, nor their contraption seemed likely to be the stuff of legend. Orville and Wilbur Wright lacked the panache of pilots, and their plane, Flyer, looked nothing like the streamlined jets of today.

Yet when Flyer was launched, it lifted and it flew. The 12-second, 120-foot flight by Orville fulfilled man’s dreams of millennia and launched a revolution that continues to this day. The Wrights made four controlled flights of their powered, heavier-than-air machine that day. While balloons had been in use for more than a century, up to Dec. 17, 1903, all previous attempts at powered flight had failed, leaving bruised aviators and broken aircraft.

The Wright brothers achieved their dream by dint of determination, creative thinking and exhaustive testing. Instead of building one unworkable craft after another, they identified problems that needed solving and then designed systems that did so. They added an elevator — a small wing in front of the craft — to better control its up-and-down motion. Warping the wings gave the craft better lateral control. They then tested their innovations on kites and models. They even built a wind tunnel to test different wing designs.

Orville was so confident of success that a month before his actual flight, he told his father to set up a press release. As historian Gary Bradshaw observed, “They didn’t hope [Flyer] would fly. They had done the work, and they knew it would fly.”

Yet beyond their innovative thinking and systematic testing was the Wright brothers’ stark determination to break the bonds of gravity. The bicycle mechanics were not intimidated by scientific experts who claimed with certainty that their goal was impossible. They were not intimidated by disappointments of thousands of others who had pursued the same dream. They simply did what it took to capture the skies.

Today, President Bush will travel to Kitty Hawk to celebrate the centennial of flight. He may announce his aims for the nation’s next manned step into space — possibly the moon, perhaps even Mars. It would be appropriate, since the black of outer space now beckons with even greater promise than the blue skies did 100 years ago. Regardless of whether Mr. Bush lays out an ambitious agenda or postpones doing so for another day, he and other policy-makers must take to heart the lesson forever inscribed on the shifting sands of Kitty Hawk.

Two determined brothers with an awesome dream challenged common sense, defied conventional wisdom and ultimately triumphed over gravity. They did more than change the world. They proved that man could fly.


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