Washington, Dec. 15 (Reuters): To Amanda Wright Lane, they were Uncle Will and Uncle Orv, adventuresome ancestors who starred in family tales of pluck and invention. To the world, they were Wilbur and Orville Wright, whose airplane flight 99 years ago this week ushered in the aviation age.
Neither Lane, who is the Wright brothers’ great grand-niece, nor the global aerospace community plan to let the occasion go unnoticed, kicking off a full year of festivities leading up to the centennial of the Wrights’ achievement.
There will be a celebration at the National Air and Space Museum on Tuesday, the anniversary of the Wright brothers’ first successful powered airplane flight on December 17, 1903.
Back then, their Wright Flyer flew for just 12 seconds and travelled 120 feet over the sand dunes of North Carolina’s Outer Banks.
This time, there will be a two-and-half hour flyover at the Wright Brothers National Memorial there, featuring more than 115 aircraft from as far back as the 1930s “so visitors can see just how far aviation has come”, according to Nasa, which is participating in the event.
The flyover is set to start at 10.35 am, the same moment the fragile-looking wood-and-cloth Wright Flyer made its debut in 1903.
The Flyer is now on display at Washington’s National Air and Space Museum where actor John Travolta, an avid pilot, will be master of ceremonies on Tuesday. Twelve aviation pioneers will be honoured, including US astronauts John Glenn, Neil Armstrong, Pamela Melroy and Shannon Lucid.
Erik Lindbergh, a pilot and businessman and grandson of trans-Atlantic flyer Charles Lindbergh, will also attend and said he was looking forward to meeting other pilots.
“Most pilots in general are very interesting and very trustworthy people, the people you can count on when the chips are down,” Lindbergh said by telephone from Seattle. “So I’m just fascinated by that — who these people are and what makes them want to fly.”
Another aviation pioneer expected at Tuesday’s gala is David Lee “Tex” Hill, a Second World War fighter pilot. Now 87, Hill is an active aviator who just weeks ago flew a mock combat dogfight against Gene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon.
Lane, a housewife from Cincinnati, Ohio, planned to represent the Wright family in Washington, though she admitted being a “freaked-out flyer” who only recently triumphed over her fear of flying.
She never knew her great grand-uncles, but heard about them in family stories, where they were celebrated for their “great intellects, tremendous sense of humour and insatiable curiosity”, Lane said in a telephone interview.
“To be linked to two men who changed the world is quite an honour, and the Wrights themselves were just wonderful men and it’s such an honour to be associated with that accomplishment,” she said.
Always interested in machines and flight, the two brothers opened a bicycle shop in Dayton, Ohio, in 1892, and soon began working on their own inventions, including glider aircraft.
Their Wright Flyer I was the first powered, controlled airplane.
The Wright Flyer III, in 1905, was the first practical airplane that could bank, turn, fly figure-eights and stay airborne for half-an-hour. The invention was patented in 1906, and the Wrights got the first contract to build military aircraft in 1908.
Wilbur died of typhoid fever 1915; Orville died in 1948. Neither ever married.