Home for Christmas
By Richie Lawry
It is a cold, windy day in December 1903. Orville Wright stands on the beach in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, staring at the sky. Flying overhead, in the machine they had built together, is his brother Wilbur. It was their fourth flight of the day in their hand built flying machine. Wilbur Wright succeeded in flying their homemade machine for 59 seconds, covering 852 feet at a speed of seven miles per hour. Orville had piloted the first flight of the day that lasted just 12 seconds and traveled only 180 feet, but it proved that human flight was possible.
Orville wrote in his diary about the first attempted flight that morning. “I found the control of the front rudder quite difficult on account of its being balanced too near the center and thus had a tendency to turn itself when started so that the rudder was turned too far on one side and then too far on the other. As a result the machine would rise suddenly to about 10 ft. and then as suddenly, on turning the rudder, dart for the ground. A sudden dart when out about 100 feet from the end of the tracks ended the flight. Time about 12 seconds.”
The brothers realized that a successful flight depended on their ability to learn how to handle the machine. They were getting better with each attempt. But there was not going to be another flight that day. Orville explains in his dairy. “We set the machine down a few feet west of the building, and while standing about discussing the last flight, a sudden gust of wind struck the machine and started to turn it over. All rushed to stop it. Will who was near one end ran to the front, but too late to do any good. Mr. Daniels and myself seized spars at the rear, but to no purpose. The machine gradually turned over on us. Mr. Daniels, having had no experience in handling a machine of this kind, hung on to it from the inside, and as a result was knocked down and turned over and over with it as it went. His escape was miraculous, as he was in with the engine and chains. The engine legs were all broken off, the chain guides badly bent, a number of uprights, and nearly all the rear ends of the ribs were broken.”
That day Orville and Wilbur became the first people to demonstrate sustained flight of a heavier-than-air machine under the complete control of the pilot. What did the brothers do after their exciting success and then the heartbreak of damaging their flying machine? They had an unhurried lunch and then walked four miles to send a telegram to their father. The telegraph read, “Success four flights Thursday morning all against twenty one mile wind started from level with engine power alone. Average speed through air thirty one miles. Longest 57 seconds. Inform press. Home for Christmas. With their machine wrecked by the wind and flying done for the season, the Wrights immediately thought of going home for Christmas. The telegram reached Dayton, Ohio, at 5:25 P.M. and the brothers returned home with their broken machine on the evening of December 23.
According to their niece, Ivonette Miller, who was 7 in 1903, the children were more excited that Wilbur and Orville would be home for Christmas. She recalled that they said something like: “Oh, goody, Uncle Will will be home in time to carve the Christmas turkey!”
Amanda Wright Lane, the great-grand niece of Wilbur and Orville, said: “The Wright family was thrilled to learn about that first flight, but they were happier yet to know that meant the boys, great cooks, would be home in time for Wilbur to stuff the Christmas turkey and for Orville to make his cranberry bunny, served at holiday meals.”
Orville and Wilbur Wright had just accomplished something that no human being before them had ever done. What they accomplished that cold windy, December day would change mankind forever. But their thought were with their families, and making it home for Christmas.