Nostalgia Ain’t What It Used To Be ► Flying High
Drawing of steerable dirigible created by Henri
Giffard, which reportedly flew 15 miles in 1852.

If God had meant humans to fly, She would have provided everyone with carry-on luggage. 

Back at the turn of the last century, however, people were trying to solve riddle of flight. Hot air balloons had been around for more than a century, but a hot air balloon has only two controls: up and down. Dirigibles came along in the mid-19th century, with steam-driven engines and controls. However, fixed-wing, heavier-than-air craft would have to wait for the invention of the internal combustion engine.

Orville Wright, 1903
Wilbur Wright, 1903

Inventors around the globe were looking for a way to control flight, including bicycle salesmen Orville and Wilbur Wright. The idea began with them in 1899, when Wilbur wrote to the Smithsonian Institution asking for info on aeronautics. The brothers spent the next several years working on their invention, realizing that they should perfect controlled glider flight before adding an engine to their airplane. There were many failures, but the Wright Brothers kept refining the glider until they were able to control its flight. In 1903 they added an engine and traveled to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, their perennial testing ground. On December 14, Wilbur — who won a coin toss — took a 3-second flight, but the engine stalled after take-off and the subsequent crash made repairs necessary. On December 17, 1903, this time with Orville behind the controls, they succeeded with the “first controlled, powered, and sustained heavier than air human flight.” It doesn’t sound like much today, but Orville traveled 120 feet in 12 seconds about 10 feet above the ground, which works out to about 6.8 MPH. Exactly one photograph was taken of the historical event:

And, just because everybody loves movies like this, here are some attempts at flight that didn’t work out so well.

The last flight in that clip is the Wright Brothers. It was just a century from their first flight to the T.S.A.

About Headly Westerfield

Calling himself “A liberally progressive, sarcastically cynical, iconoclastic polymath,” Headly Westerfield has been a professional writer all his adult life.