Reporting From Kitty Hawk - Day 5
Posted 18 December 2003 - 10:10 PM
December 17, 2003
After watching today's proceedings I have more respect for the Wright Brothers. To people today having grown up with air travel it just doesn't seem like it should have taken so long for humans to figure out the fundamentals of flight. It would seem to the casual bystander that given 100 years' technology improvements we could fly the original Wright flyer "better" than they. Today proved otherwise.
Years of preparation and attention to detail by the Wright Experience team was undone today by the weather. Orville and Wilbur Wright had similar trouble 100 years ago and had to wait 2 weeks for a good day to fly. The 605 pound craft needed at least 10-15 knots of wind speed to get off the ground, and the exact replica made this century was bound by the same requirement. One hundred years ago the Brothers had seen failure after failure, yet constantly rebuilt their flyer and created new ones using 19th century tools. Every time they made an attempt to fly they poured hours upon hours into that attempt. Enough failures would have made quitters out of most people, not to mention being called fools by most people of the era. On December 17, 1903 they successfully flew not once but four times, a little farther every time. Few people have felt such victorious success as strongly as the Wright Brothers, yet the amount of patience it took to reach that plateau would have chased away most others. We owe a lot to the Wright Brothers; their patience should humble us.
We arrived at the park around 7:30am to set up for a good filming location. The sky was cloudy and the high humidity made it feel much colder than it was. We thought it wise to get to the park early to beat the rush, and apparently a lot of other people had the same plan:
It took 25 minutes to get through the security checkpoint, much less time than we had anticipated. The security guards were very cordial and moved quickly yet thoroughly. Considering the President of the United States was en route to Kitty Hawk I found this surprising.
We had barely emerged from the security checkpoint when the downpour started. We circled the roped-off reenactment area looking for the perfect spot to set up a tripod, but there were already thousands of people who looked like they had been there for hours. Brad and I were huddled under one large umbrella trying to keep our equipment dry. At the same time the field was rapidly turning into a mud pit. Where's a pair of cleats when you need them? The highlight of our first 3 hours at the park was happening upon John Travolta's media tent while he was preparing for his speech:
We finally gave up trying to find a good spot close to the action and started making our way through the throng of people back to the other side of the park where we had originally planned to set up on a small enbankment. This was not to be. Our passage had been sealed behind us to open a pathway for George W. Bush to drive through to get to the main stage! We watched as his and several other helicopters landed on the airfield. The President of the United States accompanied by several Secret Service agents emerged from the helicopter and walked to the waiting vehicle motorcade. By this time Brad and I had made our way to the edge of the police barricade waiting for the motorcade to pass. Sure enough, a long line of black SUVs passed one by one, not 20 feet in front of us. I was shooting video all the while, trying to catch a glimpse of the President. Sure enough, from the back window of the third truck our President was waving to the crowd! At the time I wasn't sure I had captured the moment on video, but later found that I had grabbed a great (but short) clip.
The President gave a moving speech, or so we heard - the speakers in our area of the park were not working right, presumably because of all the water (the speaker stack was standing in a large puddle of water). He was unable to stay for the flight attempt, so before long the motorcade made its way back to the helicopters and they took off. We learned that he had arrived in Elizabeth City, NC via Air Force One that morning.
The 10:35am flight attempt was scrubbed due to weather. At 10:36am the flight show narrater announced a flyby of a newly dedicated plane, dubbed "The Spirit of Kitty Hawk." Out of the clouds a nearly silent B-2 bomber soared slowly overhead, fading into a horizontal line as it disappeared into a cloud. It was the first time I'd seen the billion-dollar aircraft, and I won't soon forget it
Check out the B-2 Flyby Video here
Within minutes another flyby announcement was made. After the excitement peak brought on by the B-2 what could possibly compare?! Air Force One, complete with President We had already bagged our cameras because of the resuming rain, so when we heard the announcement we frantically dug them out again and flipped them on. Brad grabbed his camcorder and I grabbed a still camera, and together we got some great coverage of the Presidential flyby. How often does Air Force One give a flyby?! Our location turned out to be perfect too - as the 747-200 flew by with flaps partially down they flew right by the park's American Flag (from our perspective). Talk about picture perfect!
Brad and I along with our wives spent the next hour looking for a good spot to view the 2:00 flight attempt. We wandered for what seemed like an eternity until we found a break in the throng of people surrounding the roped off reenactment site. The spot was perfect, except for the fact that it was in 8-10 inches of water. Set back a dozen feet from the rope was a small island of grass. We set up our chairs there and waited for the 2:00 attempt. Around 11:00am a reporter for the Roanoke, Virginia Times spotted us and took a bunch of pictures (I guess we looked the most miserable of the crowd):
At 11:30am it was announced that because the rain had stopped and the wind was picking up there would be an early flight attempt! Tons of people started pressing against the rope to get a better view, and even jumped in front of us Although we had only packed our tennis shoes we figured it was worth getting wet to get a good picture, so we waded out to the rope in 8-10 inches of water, set up Brad's tripod (mine had broken the day before - go figure), and waited. Brad is in yellow, I'm in black
Sure enough, before long the Wright Flyer was wheeled out to the rail, and after a "pre-flight checklist," her engines were given their first spin. Since the flyer had two props it required two men to crank them. On about the 18th crank (not counting the quick spins to turn the props to the horizontal position) the engine sputtered to life and the public heard what the Wright Flyer sounded like for the first time. Cheers and an onslaught of camera flashes accompanied the sound, and within a few moments we could faintly smell the Flyer's exhaust. What a rush!
After all the final checks the Wright Experience team got out of the Flyer's way and the pilot playing Orville gave "Wilbur" the nod and started down the rail. The machine just didn't seem to accelerate very fast, and near the end of the rail its 4-cylindar engine seemed to nearly stall. At the end of the rail the pilot gave a frantic pull on the elevator but the ill-fated Flyer fell off the end of the rail and its right wing splashed into a mud puddle.
Several minutes passed while the engineers examined the Flyer for any damage, and then it was lifted and carried back to its hanger for repair:
We learned later that the humidity in the air had kept the engine's RPMs down, causing the loss of power. Our first thought was to blame the two engineers from Dayton, Ohio who had built the Wright Experience engine, but we quickly remembered that they had only rebuilt the engine Orville and Wilbur had designed and built 100 years before.
We returned to our position on the "island" and waited for the 2:00 attempt. Due to inclement weather this turned out to be a 4-hour wait until 3:30pm. Brad and I had split up at this point - he remained in the pond with the tripod and I headed to the other side of the reenactment area to get up close to the launch point. The track had just been relaid to allow the flyer to face the wind, which had changed nearly 180 degrees. Few people seemed to realize what was going on and I found a great spot close to the action before anybody knew where to stand for the best view
Presently the flyer was wheeled out again and placed on the track. The wheels used to move the flyer around were removed, and once again the pre-flight checklist was followed. I was about as close to the Flyer as was possible, and got some great video footage, but unfortunately did not get any still shots to display here (you'll just have to watch the video ). For the second and last time of the day the Flyer's engine was started. For a couple minutes one of the Wright Experience team members checked the wind speed with a hand-held anemometer, then finally shrugged his shoulders and drew his hand across his neck to signal the end of the final reenactment attempt. A cold front had passed but the wind never picked up past 3 knots, which was less than a third of the wind speed required to lift the Flyer. The crowd cheered wildly for the team and their efforts as the aircraft was once again derailed and rolled back to its hanger.
The Flyer will be moved to the Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, where it will be permanently housed. Although we had spent 9 hours in the park with awful weather conditions we felt extremely lucky to have been a part of such a historical day. In the year 2103 we hope our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be able to visit the site for the Bicentennial Celebration. Who knows, maybe the weather will even favor them
Brad and Jon
Posted 19 December 2003 - 11:46 PM
Posted 20 December 2003 - 12:33 AM
Posted 20 December 2003 - 02:48 AM
Posted 20 December 2003 - 05:24 AM
Posted 20 December 2003 - 08:50 AM
Posted 20 December 2003 - 03:45 PM
ryan, on Dec 19 2003, 11:46 PM, said:
Posted 20 December 2003 - 10:20 PM
Seeing these pics give me some kinda feeling I was there, though.
Posted 23 December 2003 - 01:05 PM
Posted 24 December 2003 - 02:27 PM
I was sdaly serving a funeral during that time
Posted 11 May 2004 - 08:38 PM
Posted 06 October 2004 - 09:01 PM
scavers, on Aug 30 2004, 06:16 PM, said:
Posted 03 June 2005 - 12:59 PM
Is that really him, or an image of him stuck on the inner side of the window?