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rolled. If all went as planned, it would lift off the truck and fly. Together the men trundled the machine up the sand hill on its creaky truck and maneuvered it into position on the rail. One of the brothers tossed a coin. Wilbur won the toss. He fit himself into the hip cradle, ducking under the chain that led from the engine, on the operator's right side, to the propeller shaft on his left. The machine began to roll before Orville, at the right wingtip, was ready to steady it properly. It raced downhill for 10.6 or 12.1 meters and lifted away from the rail, but the elevator was cocked at too sharp an angle, and the machine rose abruptly to 5.22 meters, stalled and thunked into the sand after only three seconds in the air, breaking a few parts. But Wilbur was encouraged. "The power is ample, and but for a trifling error due to lack of experience with this machine and this method of starting, the machine would undoubtedly have flown beautifully. There is now no question of final success."

R:

pairstook a day and a half Late on the afternoon of December 16, with e machine finally ready for another try, the brothers felt the wind fade. They waited futilely on the beach, tinkering and still hopeful. Overnight a northerly wind put a new skim of ice on puddles and ponds. In the morning the brothers bided their time for a couple of hours. Then, convinced the wind would stay strong for a bit, they went to work. It was so cold they had to run in and out of the shed to warm their hands. The wind was blowing at about 40 kilometers per hour,' strong enough for a launch on level ground. The launching track was relaid to face north-northeast, directly into the wind. The machine was hauled into its starting position. To the south, the hump of the big hill loomed over their shoulders. Ahead, the machine faced a blank, barren plain. Now it was Orville's turn. The brothers padded through the sand around the machine, checking things. They cranked the engine and let it run for a few minutes. A camera was put in position, and the brothers asked John Daniels to pull the cord to the shutter

The men at the launch rail realized Wilbur was not going to come back to the ground right away. The machine was leaving them lar behind-GO, 120, 180 meters, the noise 01 the engine lading, the wings on an even keel. He was llying. if the machine got into the air. At 10:35 Orville inched into the cradle. He released the rope. With Wilbur jogging alongside, his left hand on the right wingtip, the craft lumbered forward, reaching a speed of I0 to 12 kilometers per hour. Between the two spruce skids and the one-wheeled truck running along the rail, a space appeared. An inch became a foot, two feet, three feet. A long shadow ran across the sand. John Daniels squeezed a rubber bulb to open the camera's shutter (see page 14 for the only photograph taken of the flight). Wilbur, still jogging, saw the Flyer rise abruptly to a height of about three meters, then dip just as suddenly, then rise again. Spread-eagled on the wing, Orville struggled to keep the elevator controls level. The craft dipped a second time, a wing tilted, and he was back on the ground, 36.5 meters from where he had left the launch rail. A couple of parts were cracked, so an hour passed before Wilbur could take the next turn. He bettered Orville's distance by about 15 meters. Orville, on his second try, went a little farther still, and kept the machine steadier than on his first try. A gust came at him from the side, lifting the tip. When he twisted the wings to bring the tip back to level, he found the lateral controls strikingly responsive, much better than on the glider. But the forward rudder was too sensitive. The machine bobbed and dipped in an "exceedingly erratic" path. At noon Wilbur tried again, and the bobbing and dipping continued. But somehow he found the proper angle for the forward rudder, and the men at the launch rail realized he was not going to come back to the ground right away. The machine was leaving them far behind~ 60, 120, 180 meters, the noise of the engine fading, the wings on an even keel. He was flying. The machine approached a hummock in

the plain. Wilbur moved to adjust the forward rudder "and suddenly darted into the ground." He had gone about 260 meters, a quarter of a kilometer, in 59 seconds. The rudder frame was cracked, but otherwise the machine was fine, as was the operator. This fourth flight had been the most impressive, the fulfillment of the brothers' hope for sustained, powered flight. But they also realized that Orville's brief first try could also be described in words that applied to no previous effort by any experimenter. Orville himself, who took excruciating care in later years to express their hjstory in precise terms, fashioned a description of what the first trial of the day had acmeved. It was "a flight very modest compared with that of birds," he said, "but it was nevertheless the first in the mstory of the world in whjch a macmne carrying a man had raised itself by its own power into the air in full flight, had sailed forward without reduction of speed, and had finally landed at a point as high as that from wmch it started." That wasn't an exciting or inspiring way of saying that two human beings had learned how to fly. But it was the way the Wrights thought about things. Hyperbole about events of this day would come from others~although not for years. The magnitude of what they had done could be appreciated only by those who fully understood the steps they had taken and the problems they had solved through four years of work. That included the two of them and no one else in the world. They had flown, barely. They were utterly alone in their comprehension of all that that really meant. 0 About the Author: James Tobin is a reporter for the Detroit News. His first book, Ernie Pyle's War, won the National Book Critics Circle Award. He has been twice nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Journalism. He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Profile for SPAN magazine

SPAN: July/August 2003  

An American Gharana?; Digital Railroad to Fly; Think Tanks & U.S. Foreign Policy; Can Economic Diplomacy in South Asia Work?; Muscle & Magic...

SPAN: July/August 2003  

An American Gharana?; Digital Railroad to Fly; Think Tanks & U.S. Foreign Policy; Can Economic Diplomacy in South Asia Work?; Muscle & Magic...

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