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The short flight that changed history

December 12, 2013
By Joyce Schenk , Westfield Republican / Mayville Sentinel News

In the early 1900s, the Wright brothers of Dayton, Ohio, owned a small bicycle repair shop. In addition to their modest business, the two were dreamers and doers.

Like countless humans through time, the brothers were fascinated by the concept of air travel. But, unlike those before them, the Wrights set out to make their dreams of flying come true.

So it was that on Dec. 17, 1903... one hundred ten years ago this month... Orville and Wilbers' first-of-its-kind aircraft left the earth at Kitty Hawk and flew for fifty-nine seconds, achieving a top speed of 30 miles per hour.

With that brief flight, the Wrights changed the world of travel forever.

Through the years since, that visionary event, air travel, has made astounding progress. From the sands of Kitty Hawk, mankind has criss-crossed the globe by air, soared into space, even reached the moon.

Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft who is himself a dreamer and doer, has said of the beginnings of air travel, "The Wright brothers created the single greatest cultural force since the invention of writing. The airplane became the first Worldwide Web, bringing people, languages, ideas and values together."

Like Gates, I've long been a fan of air travel. There's something both amazing and humbling about soaring above the earth, looking down on cities and farms, the vast panorama of the country, laid out like a living road map. I can only imagine how the view from that first flight mesmerized the early pilot and inspired the visionary inventors.

Although my experiences in flying have been quite limited compared to some global travelers, I have made a number of trips by air that will always stay with me in memory.

There was the time George and I traveled to Australia to visit daughter Becky and her family, who were temporarily stationed there for business. We flew from Los Angeles to Sydney at night. The vast Pacific Ocean lay far below our small silver magic carpet capsule. It was an inky sheet that seemed to cover the entire world. Yet, as we moved across the darkness, we could see tiny points of light beneath us. They indicated boats, plying that huge water highway just as we "sailed" through the star-studded night above. At that moment, the effect turned our little part of the world into a magic tapestry, stretched between heaven and earth.

Another flight took me in to the Erie airport just after sunset on a cloud-hung evening. We had traveled across the state of Pennsylvania in a cotton batting sky. Yet suddenly, we broke through the cloud cover and seemed to skim just above the trees as the entire city of Erie, all dressed in lights, beaconed beneath our wings.

Like so many facets of today's routine life, air travel has made progress never dreamed of by the folks who took those early, tentative steps into the unknown future.

A few years ago, the world watched in awe as the massive space shuttle, recently returned from outer space, was securely nestled on top of a huge jumbo jet. The mind-boggling pair was united for a history-making piggy-back ride from the shuttle's California landing site to its Florida home base. According to reports of the project, the cost of the little jaunt of this odd couple was estimated at about $2 million.

What would the unassuming bicycle repair brothers have said had they seen the jumbo jet and its space shuttle cargo crossing the country?

Today, we can only hope that there are still visionaries out there, experimenting outside the established box, trying to come up with the next amazing development to move mankind forward.



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