(See front cover)
Dec. 17, 1903, Orville Wright, at Kitty Hawk,* N. C., made the first airplane flight in history. His brother Wilbur who had helped him invent the motor and design the plane, watched him, nervous, confident and inquisitive, from the ground. An undertaker also stood by. Wilbur Wright died in 1912; but Orville Wright has lived to see:
1) This week, the $100,000,000 U. S. aviation industry hold a vast commercial exposition at Chicago;
2) Next fortnight, himself as guest of honor at the International Conference on Civil Aeronautics, at Washington;
3) Dec. 17, his flight's silver anniversary ceremonies at Kitty Hawkthe National Aeronautic Association dedicating a 10-ton granite boulder at the point whence he took off, the Government laying the cornerstone of a monument there.
First Flight. A biting cold wind was blowing 24 miles an hour along the beach at Kitty Hawk the morning of Dec. 17, 1903. The Wrights with their biplane and a few helpers were on a knoll. Dismally nearby was a horse and wagon. A man sat on the wagon seat, leaning patiently forward, his hands hanging loosely between his knees, the reins looped over a crooked finger. He was a native undertaker.
The plane resembled a great, wide box kite with" struts supporting vertical and horizontal rudders far out in the rear. The engine was at one side of the flyer's seat, so that if the plane tumbled it would not fall on him. Two skids projected in front to prevent the plane somersaulting on landing.
The Wrights built the plane according to specifications which they developed themselves. When they had been boys at Dayton, Ohio, they had played with kites and gliders and grew expert in their flight. When they were young men and in the bicycle business they continued to study aerodynamics. They built themselves a wind tunnel and learned new aerodynamical laws. Two things, they learned, happened to a moving planewind" pushed it up from below and a vacuum sucked it up from above. If the plane was slightly curved and tapered from front to back the suction force was about three times the pushing force. They learned, too, how to warp the plane wings, how to steer it, how to control it in all ways. They built their own motor. And then they were ready to make their first flight.
At Kitty Hawk that cold December week, Wilbur and Orville Wright tossed a coin to decide which would try the first flight. Wilbur won, got into the machine, rose a few feet. After three seconds the machine stalled. Next it was Orville's turn. He succeeded; he sustained the flight of a kite.
Wright Honors. The U. S., then, was tepid to flying. So the Wrights went to Europe. There they won recognition and financial backing. That is why, when Orville Wright believed that the Smithsonian Institution at Washington was erroneously giving the late Samuel Pierpont Langley credit for the first man-carrying airplane, he sent his Kitty Hawk plane to the Science Museum' at South Kensington, London, for preservation.
Of course, Orville and Wilbur Wright, who never attended college, soon received honorary academic degrees. Orville Wright has eight.
And, of course, they made money. In 1915, three years after Wilbur Wright's death, Orville sold his patents to the Wright Aeronautical Corp. It is a $7,000,000 concern.