Oh Wilbur

Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of flight – the day when the Wright Brothers little plane flew the dunes at Kill Devil Hills in Kitty Hawk, NC.

I know there were some ceremonies, and the new Smithsonian air museum’s opening was meant to coincide, but I am personally disappointed that more wasn’t done to celebrate this triumph. This has to be on the short list of most important inventions of the 20th century.

My parents tell the story of how, for their honeymoon, they drove to California. My mom says they felt, “When would we ever have the opportunity to go again?” Today, it’s simple to pick up and fly nearly anywhere… and we do. I’ve gone to California from Connecticut to attend a birthday party and once flew in Saturday morning and out Sunday morning, allowing me to only miss one night in my bed at home.

For people, airplane travel has drastically changed over the last 20 years – since PEOPLExpress. It used to be, you’d get dressed up for the upscale experience of flying. Now, you’re just a cog in the air transport machine. Though airfares are cheaper, I’d love to see a comparison of travel times, which have to be longer thanks to the hub and spoke system.

Over the past century, the cost of air transport for goods has also gone down. So now it’s possible to have fresh fruit year round in the Northeast, or get parts shipped to a factory overnight to keep production running. One word: FedEx.

Much of aviation’s growth stems from our government’s sales of surplus aircraft after WWII. I believe that no longer happens, and it’s a shame. The military destroys too much that still has value. Is there even a military surplus market anymore?

Wilbur and Orville were quiet men. The first flight wasn’t a ‘press event,’ though a telegram home to Dayton asked the family to alert the press to what they’d done. The Wright Flyer, as designed, was almost impossible to fly with any stability. It’s a wonder they got into the air at all (though gusty northerly winds didn’t hurt) much less lived to talk about it.

Today of all days, I just wish we’d celebrate them a little more.

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