Planes, Planes, Planes

Final post on flight today:

I should also note that as we honor the Wright Brothers today, we should all lift our caps to Otto Lilienthal as well. If he hadn’t died of injuries sustained in a glider crash, odds are the formal commemoration of man’s first powered flight would be occuring somewhere in Germany, not at Kitty Hawk. The Wrights knew and respected his work. He was the prototype airman. Hats off to Otto!

And another post on flight:

I should note that I was a real geek about airplanes when I was a kid, a trait probably inherited from my dad, who always dreamed of being a fighter pilot, but had bad eyes, so had to drive amphibious assault vehicles instead. As a kid, my bedroom always had model planes hanging from the ceiling, lovingly built and painted by my dad. When he died, his office had something like 50 cast iron model planes lining various shelves and counter tops, almost all of them the World War II vintage planes that he loved as a kid. We buried a model of a 1950s Marine Corps Corsair with him, in fact. So . . . on the occasion of the first 100 years of flight, and in my dad’s memory, I list my five all-time favorite airplanes (all of them military, but, hey, military planes look a lot cooler than commercial ones).

1. Fokker Dr. I

2. RF-4C Phantom II

3. SR-71 Blackbird

4. JU-87D Stuka

5. P-38 Lightning

Geek out!

First post on flight:

10:35 this morning, the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers’ first successful powered flight.

The official plan was to have a replica of the original Wright Flyer take to the air to commemorate the moment. But weather held up the re-enactment, and then when they did finally send the Flyer down its tracks, it fell into a mud puddle. I’m somehow glad for that: it makes what Orville and Wilbur accomplished all that much more remarkable, on some plane, in that we can’t duplicate it today using the materials and concepts that they used to get off the ground the first time.

The President was there, which is apt and fitting, since this really is one of the more important and meaningful moments in American technological history, but I note this bizarre little tidbit from the report of the event: that the President was introduced by John Travolta.

Ummm . . . I know he’s a licensed pilot and everything, but why would John Travolta be the person chosen to introduce the Commander in Chief? Any combat pilots out there who could do the job? An astronaut or two? Or the CEO(s) of Boeing or Lockheed-Martin or Grumman or some other important figure in the word of aeronautics? Another airplane designer, or rocket scientist? The head of the Federal Aviation Administration? Someone? Anyone?

John Travolta was the best they could do? Humph. Orville and Wilbur deserve better. As does the President, for that matter, all politics aside: what does it say about us as a society and a culture when a Hollywood figure is considered the appropriate choice to warm up an audience for the Chief Executive of the land?

Still, though, Orville and Wilbur are awesome historical figures, totally obsessed cranks for the most part, but well worth reading about and honoring. If you know nothing about them except their names, then go find a book about them, preferably one with lots of pictures, since you can’t really get a sense of what a bizarre undertaking the Wrights were engaging in unless you see the images of them out on the dunes of North Carolina’s Outer Banks in their sensible suits, dragging giant kites around.

About J. Eric Smith
Executive Director, Salisbury House Foundation.

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