On a breezy December morning in North Carolina's Outer Banks in the year 1903, aviation history was made with a 12-second flight. Orville Wright only covered a distance of 120 feet going roughly 35 miles per hour on that first flight, but it didn't matter – it was flight. And it was the beginning of modern aviation as we know it.
Today, almost 110 years later, with planes flying for 12 hours easily, it's pretty amazing to look back at how far aviation technology has come. And what better day to remember the Wright brothers than today (August 19), National Aviation Day?
The Ohio-born Wright brothers worked for years to perfect powered flight – flight in which the pilot was in control of the aircraft and not just at the whim of the winds. On December 17, 1903, the brothers successfully completed four separate flights over a sandy stretch of ground in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina. The longest flight – the fourth and final one of the day – lasted nearly a minute and covered 852 feet. Comparing that to their first flight, perhaps it was a preview of how quickly their new technology would develop.
Today, if you visit Kill Devil Hills, you can also visit the Wright Brothers National Memorial. Run by the National Park Service, this memorial commemorates the Wright brothers' achievements, and gives visitors a glimpse into early aviation. Not only can you walk the distance of those first four flights on December 17, 1903, but you can also see a replica of the Wright brothers' 1903 Flyer, climb the hill to the granite monument that celebrates “the conquest of the air,” and wander through some exhibits in an old hangar.
In the exhibit, my favorite part was a timeline depicting aviation history. Some interesting dates:
- 1909 – French aviator Louis Bleriot makes the first airplane crossing of the English Channel.
- 1918 – The U.S. Postal Service introduces airmail.
- 1919 – First air passenger service begins between London and Paris.
- 1927 – Charles Lindbergh completes the first solo, non-stop transatlantic flight.
- 1933 – The Boeing 247 (the first modern airliner) flies for the first time.
By WWII, armies around the world were turning to airplanes as one of their major weapons. And today, in 2013, we have airplanes capable of flying halfway around the world, carrying hundreds of passengers.
If you ever have the chance to visit Kill Devils Hills, pay the $4 entry fee to visit the Wright Brothers National Memorial. Walk the length of those first four flights just a little over a century ago, and marvel at how far we've come since then.
Happy National Aviation Day!