In 1903, at Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, the Wright Brothers made their first powered flight in Wright Flyer I, thus ushering in a fantastic new era of heavier-than air flight that has brought us routine passenger jet travel, artificial satellites and an Earth-orbiting space station, moon landings and man's first venture beyond his own solar system.
In recognition of the brothers' amazing achievement, the anniversary of their first flight, December 17, is officially recognized in the United States as Wright Brothers Day. Let's celebrate it by taking a look back at the Wrights' lives and discussing some activities seniors in the Cincinnati area can undertake to remember them this month.
Born to fly.
Most people know that the Wright Brothers began their professional lives as bicycle manufacturers in Dayton, Ohio, before they built and flew the first successful heavier-than-air flying craft. What you may not know is that their interest in flight extended back 25 years— to 1878— in their early childhood.
In that year, their father, who as a bishop of the Church of the United Brethren in Christ travelled often, brought home a small helicopter-like toy for the brothers to play with. The rubber band-powered toy was based on a flying machine designed by French inventor Alphonse Pénaud. They played with it until it broke, then reportedly built their own copy. From that time on, they were hooked on dreams of taking to the air.
The Wrights began engaging in aircraft design experiments in the 1890s. Using proceeds from their bicycle shop, they built and tested a series of large kites and gliders, which they often tested on the North Carolina coast, where the predictable, strong ocean breezes were more favorable for producing wing lift than the ever-shifting winds in Ohio.
In 1903, they added counter-rotating propellers and a small combustion engine to their design. Wilbur, who won a coin toss, became the world's first pilot of a heavier-than-air craft, flying for twelve seconds, barely ten feet off the ground, over a distance of 120 feet— and straight into aviation history books.
When the brothers founded the Wright Company in 1909, they set up their airplane factory in their hometown of Dayton. S
The US Air Force honors the Wrights to this day.
Beginning in 1909, the Wright Company sold the US Army its first warplanes. Although the Army's first Wright flyers were bedeviled by a series of fatal crashes, prompting a government investigation, military aviation nonetheless progressed. In 1917, during World War I, Wilbur Wright Field was established by the Army near present-day Fairborn, Ohio, a suburb of Dayton. By the end of the Second World War, the base had grown in size and importance; in 1948, it was renamed Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
Today, Wright-Patterson is among the largest of the Air Force's bases. It is home to Air Force Materiel Command, the Air Force Institute of Technology and the National Museum of the US Air Force (known colloquially as the "Air Force Museum").
Take a day trip to see some classic warbirds in honor of the Wrights.
The Air Force Museum only is about an hour's drive north of downtown Cincinnati. It is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and admission is free (see, your tax dollars do pay for something good!), so it's a cheap and easy trip to take on your own, with a group of friends or with the grandkids.
The museum features one of the world's largest collections of military aircraft, including over 360 planes and missiles on display. The museum is subdivided into several historical eras, detailing the development of military aviation in general and the US Air Force in particular. Among the exhibits in the museum's Early Years hangar are the 1909 Wright Military Flyer— the first plane purchased by the US Army Signal Corps — as well as two of the brothers' experimental wind tunnels.
The World War II hangar is a true crowd pleaser. It includes a B-17G Flying Fortress bomber called "Shoo Shoo Baby" (the museum also owns the original "Memphis Belle," which is currently being restored for future display), the historically-significant B-29 "Bockscar" (which dropped the second atomic bomb, on Nagasaki), several American fighter planes (such as a P-40 Warhawk painted in the iconic Flying Tigers paint scheme) and a bevy of foreign Allied, German and Japanese aircraft.
But the real coups de grace of any visit to the Air Force Museum might be seeing the full-size mockup of the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber (located in the Cold War hangar), the bizarre-looking experimental aircraft housed in the Research and Developmental Aircraft hangar (including an SR-71 Blackbird), or the collection of planes that at one time or another served as Air Force One, in the Presidential Aircraft display.
Taking a trip to the National Museum of the US Air Force Museum is a fun senior activity and a great way to observe Wright Brothers Day.
Whether it's to dazzle your grandchildren with sights and stories of your military service, to pick up a bit of aviation history knowledge, or just to ogle beautiful, sleek warbirds, a trip up to Dayton is certainly worth the drive. This December 17, take a moment to remember good ol' Wilbur and Orville and be thankful for the freedom of flight they bestowed onto us.