Thursday, December 16, 2010

Thank You Wright Brothers!

December 17th the 107th anniversary of the flight that changed the world. hursday, December 17, 1903, dawned windy and cold on North Carolina's Outer Banks. At Kill Devil Hills, the thermometer hovered around the freezing mark, and a 25-mile-per-hour (40-kilometer-per-hour) wind blowing out of the north made it feel even colder.

Orville climbed into the primitive cockpit and lifted the "Flyer," as it was called, from the level ground of Kitty Hawk into the air and flew for 12 seconds before landing with a thud 120 feet away. The brothers made four flights that day, the last one soaring 852 feet and lasting almost one minute, launching the world into the aviation age for good.

It was the U.S. government that encouraged the first mass manufacturing of the airplane, which it saw as a potentially powerful weapon. When World War I broke out in 1914, airplane technology sped up dramatically and was a pillar of the wartime economy.

By the 1930s, the U.S. had four airlines delivering millions of passengers, limited mostly to the upper class, to points across the country and the Atlantic Ocean and, by the end of the decade, the Pacific. With the dawn of commercial air service, the world opened up in a new way, allowing people to visit places they'd only read about in books.

Aviation greatly affected the outcome of World War II, too, and war equally affected aviation. Airplanes carried paratroopers across the English Channel, dropped the first atomic bomb and, by the end of the war, its manufacturing had helped put the United States at the forefront of all the world's postwar economies, where it remained until the 1970s.

There was nowhere to go but up. The birth of the jet age in the 1950s, man's first steps on the moon, even Richard Branson's just-announced commercial space tourist plan, all have their scientific roots in the field of Kitty Hawk.

In less than 100 years, the Wright's shaky craft had turned into a vehicle fit to explore outer space.

Besides all that, if the Wright Brothers hadn't gotten powered flight "off the ground", what would I do with my students during our flight unit?