On December 17, 1903, a fragile craft, constructed of wood, baling wire, and muslin cloth, lifted into the air and flew for twelve seconds across the sands of Kill Devil Hill on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. It may not seem like much now but, as the pilot Orville Wright said, “It was the first time in the history of the world in which a machine carrying a man had raised itself by its own power into the air in full flight.” What had eluded scientific minds for centuries – heavier-than-air flight – had finally become a reality, thanks to Wilbur and Orville Wright, two bicycle mechanics from Dayton, Ohio.
In the following decades, aviation would remain fraught with danger. After the dreamers and inventors came the men and women who, against staggering odds, risked their lives.
Most people have heard of Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart, but there were many other pioneer pilots. In 1909 Louis Blëriot winged across the English Channel. Two years later, Cal Rodgers spanned the American continent in a series of short hops. Lindbergh was not the only one to conquer the North Atlantic, although the first person to do it alone. Eight years earlier, two Englishmen, John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown, flew from Newfoundland to Ireland non-stop – a hair-raising adventure in which Brown at high altitude and subzero temperature had climbed out on top of the fuselage to remove ice covering the fuel dial.
Daredevils and barnstormers dominated the late 1920s, and hazardous air races were the rage in the 1930s, which included Beryl Markham’s crossing of the Atlantic from east to west in strong headwinds. The decade also marked the beginning of airlines and regular airmail service.
Since then, our ancient dream of flying has been realized beyond imagination. In 1947, Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier. Ten years later, Russians launched Sputnik 1, the first passenger-carrying object ever hurled into space. As the Montgolfier brothers had done two centuries earlier, the Russians turned to the animal kingdom for a passenger – in their case the dog Laika.
When, in 1969, Neil Armstrong stepped onto the Moon’s Sea of Tranquility, he carried a small piece of linen from the Wright Brother’s original flier. It was fitting tribute to those bold, even reckless, people who persevered for the thrill, as Beryl Markham put it, of that “momentary escape from the eternal custody of the earth.”
Bo Zaunders has written four nonfiction books for children and illustrated two. He is also a photographer specializing in food and travel. Like Corrigan, he loves adventures. You can find Feathers, Flaps & Flops in the iNK Books & Media Store.
For Vicki Cobb's BLOG (nonfiction book reviews, info on education, more), click here: Vicki's Blog
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