The Wright Time to Celebrate

It’s time for a My Town Monday post, and I wasn’t sure what I was going to blog about today until I saw the date.

It’s not a significant date to everyone, but if you’ve ever flown in an airplane, it’s significant to you, because December 17, 1903 was when Wilbur and Orville Wright made their historic, first flight.

“But Jennette, why are you blogging about something that happened in North Carolina? You’re from Dayton, Ohio!” you might ask.

The historic first flight at Kill Devil Hills, NC

The historic first flight at Kill Devil Hills, NC

Yes, I am from Dayton, Ohio–and so were the Wrights!Β That historic first flight might have happened elsewhere, but ninety percent of the work that led up to it (and followed) happened in Dayton.

In 2003, when the city was awash in celebrations and special commemorative events, The Dayton Daily News conducted a survey. I don’t have access to it now, and don’t know how large or scientific the sampling was, but the results were surprising regardless. While most people did indeed know that Wilbur and Orville Wright invented the first powered aircraft, less than half of the respondents knew the airplane was invented in Dayton, or that there was any connection with Dayton at all. A surprising number didn’t even know where the first flight took place, and many thought all the work had been done in North Carolina.

Where it all began - the Wright home at 7 Hawthorn Street, Dayton, Ohio

Where it all began – the Wright home at 7 Hawthorn Street, Dayton, Ohio

Home in Dayton is where the Wrights studied birds in flight for countless hours. It’s where their bicycle shop was, where they studied the workings of gears and chains, much of which later found its way into their early designs–for example, they used bicycle chains to connect the two propellers to the engine. Home in Dayton is where the Wrights flew kites to study how wind interacted with cloth-covered panels (and where many people thought they were crazy, or at least weird). It was where they built a wind tunnel, and experimented with miniature aircraft and propellers to determine the most flight-worthy designs. It was where they hired mechanic Charlie Taylor to develop the most powerful engine possible with the technology of the day, in the lightest weight. It was where their sister, Katharine Wright, sewed yards upon yards of white sateen fabric for the Wright Flyer’s wings.

They started traveling to the Outer Banks in 1900, when they began experimenting with gliders large enough to carry a person. They needed steady, straight-line winds to fly it–something not in good supply in Ohio. The area they chose was remote, difficult to access, and the weather was often miserable. On December 14th, a week before they’d planned to leave for the winter, they flipped a coin. Wilbur won the toss.

The plane got off the ground, but immediately crashed. Wilbur was unhurt, but the aircraft wasn’t, so they spent the next three days repairing it.

On the 17th, the winds were a bit on the strong side, but they both decided if they didn’t fly then, they probably wouldn’t that year, so Orville took his turn manning the craft. He flew, for a whole twelve seconds, and about 100 feet beyond the end of the launch rail. They made three other flights that day, the longest being 59 seconds and about 800 feet, before the craft again crashed and required extensive repairs. But this time when they packed it in, they’d accomplished what they’d worked toward for many years.

Just like publishing a book, that first flight wasn’t the end of the Wrights’ work, but the beginning. They researched and experimented over the winter. When they returned to Kill Devil Hills in the spring, it was to pack up their campsite there. They continued their work in Dayton from that point forward, with a craft that could fly in variable winds and make turns.

What about you? Did you know that Orville and Wilbur Wright did the vast bulk of their research and development work in Dayton, Ohio?Β Have you worked on something for years, only to realize the achievement wasn’t an end, but a beginning? I’d love to hear from you – please share!

Photos are public domain (copyright expired)

Jennette Marie Powell writes stories about ordinary people in ordinary places, who do extraordinary things and learn that those ordinary places are anything but. In her Saturn Society novels, unwilling time travelers do what they must to make things right... and change more than they expect. You can find her books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes, and more.

18 Responses to \

  1. I THINK I knew the Wright Brothers were from Dayton before we moved here in 1991. But then, I was interested in planes when I was a youngun’ and all things airborne. In fact, I wanted to be a pilot until my mother told me I’d have to like math. Ugh! So much for that. Ha Ha!!

    As for working on something for years, I guess I have. I finished my first book in 2010 and I’m back at it. I thought it only needed cleaning up, but realized it can be so much better. That puppy will be published in 2013 (one way or another). It’s a promise I’m making to myself.

  2. Yes, I did know that the Wrights built aircraft in Ohio! (Go me.) It’s still on my bucket list to ride in an open cockpit plane. Thanks to the Wrights for that dream. πŸ™‚

  3. Stacy, very cool – both your interest in aircraft and your book! Keep going, and good luck!

    Yay, Julie! There is a group here with a replica Wright B Flyer (the first airplane that carried two people, sitting up) and they give rides! That’s on my bucket list. πŸ™‚

  4. I feel like I knew the Ohio connection. Are you quizzing me Jennette? πŸ™‚
    I’ve been to the NC museum/site, so that’s the bigger Wright brothers connection in my (untrustworthy)brain!

  5. Thanks to you, Jennette, Dayton has taken on mythical status for me. I didn’t know of the Wright brothers’ work in your city, but Ive learned not to underestimate Dayton.

  6. Wow, cool stuff! I did not know that about the Wright Bros. But then again, I don’t know much at all about the Wright Brothers. Thanks for sharing.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

  7. Wilbur was born in Indiana! Not far from where I live! But I did live in Hamilton, Ohio, for several years, and, with a father who loved planes, we were often visitors to the museum in Dayton, and to air shows there. We certainly knew about the Wright brothers!

  8. Coleen, I’ve never been to the site in NC, so you’ve one up on me! I’d love to see it sometime.

    Pat, your comments always make me smile!

    Patricia, glad you learned something – and thanks for stopping by! πŸ™‚

    Michele, you’re right, Wilbur was born in Indiana. Cool that you’ve hit the museums around here – they’re great!

  9. Hi Jennette. I can answer yes – but it’d be sad if I couldn’t having worked in aviation all my life! Dayton has one of the best air museums around. I’ve been out to Kill Devil Hills and I often wonder why they really picked that point. The times I’ve been there it’s been blowing a gale and very gusty, exactly what I wouldn’t want if I was trying to get airborne and live!

    Cheers πŸ™‚

  10. Cool, Nigel! The National Museum of the USAF is great, as are the National Parks museums where the Wrights had their bicycle shop and one near where they flew in this area. And now you know why they went to NC for that first one. Reading about it, it’s amazing they weren’t hurt! πŸ™‚

  11. Hi Jennette! How are you?

    I did know that the Wright brothers’ first flight was in Ohio, but didn’t know it took place in Dayton or that it took place on 12/17. There are a lot of great things that take place in this unique town of yours. πŸ™‚

  12. I just love the grit & determination of their story. But one of the Wright Brothers once said, “We couldn’t wait to get up in the morning.” Those words are so inspiring–to let passion fuel your work. Thanks for sharing

  13. Karen, so good to hear from you! The first flight actually took place in NC, but the majority of the R&D happened in Dayton. Thanks for stopping by!

    Diane, they are definitely an inspiration! They did all on their own what others hadn’t been able to do with tons of backing from the government and extra help.

  14. Yes, we did know the Wright brothers were from Dayton. What we forget is the North Carolina part. LOL. We know what you mean about the end being the beginning. Getting our book The Turning Stone Chronicles–The Promised One sold is just the beginning of the process. There’s editing, sellin, marketing, and then writing and selling the rest of the series. Book 2 is about 3/4 finished and now we have to get serious about completing it so we can go on to book 3.

  15. Louise, thanks for stopping by!

    CD – sounds like things are going great for you! And yes, that first sale or publication is really just the start of tons of work – but so worthwhile!

  16. It sounds familiar, like I knew that information. I probably read about it at the Smithsonian when I saw the plane (or is it a replica? I can’t recall). But our trip through the air and space (both sites) was a little overwhelming and there was so much to take in and remember. I never cease to be amazed by how rich in history your hometown is.

  17. Debra, the Wright Flyer you saw at the Smithsonian is indeed the original! There is sooooo much to see at the National Air and Space Museum, it’s no wonder you weren’t sure. πŸ™‚