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Psalm 78
. . . we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, his power, and the wonders he has done. .
so the next generation would know them . . . and they in turn would tell their children.
Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Learning to Fly with Wilbur and Orville

On December 17, 1903 Orville Wright successfully flew 120 feet in about 12 seconds along the sands of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. He was piloting a plane that he designed and built with his brother Wilbur, the 1903 Flyer. Having proved their theories, the two men essentially packed up and went home to Dayton, to begin designing an improved Flyer.

We just finished reading the story of the Wright Brothers' invention, a story that began at least four years earlier in 1899. The Wright brothers had made a goal to achieve controllable, powered flight and went about reaching their goal in a very patient, systematic way. Their perseverance paid off, but not immediately. Their story is as much about the miracle of flight as it is about the patient and dogged determination of working hard until the job is done. The Wright Brothers: How They Invented the Airplane, by Russell Freedman, took us right along with Wilbur and Orville through each season of testing out their ideas with kites, gliders, and miniature gliders in their homemade wind tunnel. We rejoiced with them when they figured out how to glide, were disappointed with them when their first control system didn't pan out so well, and cheered them on as they went back to the drawing board to tackle the problem of control. When they added their own engine with the power of twelve horses, Lane excitedly pointed to the picture of the chain drive that transferred the engine's power to the propellers, "Here is how it connects!"

Lane pretends to pilot the Flyer, which we chalked out on our street, matching the dimensions (as best as we could). A neighbor friend is stretched out by the far wingtip.

After the brothers reached their goal of sustained, controllable and powered flight they attempted to profit from their ideas. Edwards Academy kids were listening intently to the tale Orville's demonstration flights before the U.S. Signal Corps and Wilbur's demonstration flights over in France. With each triumph, such as the flight of a Wright-designed plane across the United States, Long Island to Long Beach, the kids celebrated. Lane: "He flew over Kansas!"

I wasn't terribly surprised then, when Lane quickly walked out of the room as I read, "Wilbur never had the satisfaction of returning to the wind and sand of the Outer Banks [at Kitty Hawk, as Orville had done]. In 1912 he fell critically ill with typhoid fever, a common disease at that time, spread by contaminated food or water. After battling the disease for four weeks, he lapsed into unconsciousness and died at home on May 30, at the age of forty-five." Long about this time, I heard Sydney begin to sob. Lane returned to the room and his face was scrunched with tears. The two of them mourned deeply for Orville's loss, who carried on without his brother for another thirty-six years. His light had gone out, however, and he stopped flying in 1918.

We took this in-depth visit with the Wright Brothers in anticipation of our first week of Tapestry of Grace Year 4, which covers the first decade of the 20th Century. Some of our summertime reading focuses on the turn of the century, reading about actual events (such as the story of Mrs. Aeneas Gunn) or fictional stories set in that time period (such as Five Children and It).

Learn more about the 1903 Wright Flyer.

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