The Wright brothers rose early from their ceiling-high beds on December 17, 1903. Outside it was cold and clear, with a frigid 24-mph wind blowing out of the north, and the puddles of water from a recent rain were covered with ice. Hoping the wind would die down, the Wrights went back inside. When there was no change by 10 a.m., they decided to attempt a flight nonetheless. After hoisting the red signal flag to summon the men from the Life Saving Station, they hauled out sections of launch rail and tacked them into the sand on a smooth stretch near the glider shed, then returned inside to warm up again.
At 10:20 a.m., the Lifeguards arrived and helped the brothers carry the 605-pound machine from the shed and set it on the rail. At 10:27 a.m., Wilbur instructed John Daniels to man the large box camera he had set up between the buildings and machine. "As soon as the machine gets to the end of the rail, you just squeeze the bulb," he said.
|The camera that captured man's first moment of powered flight.|
After that, it all happened quickly. A few drops of gas were pumped into each cylinder of the engine. The battery box was connected to it. Wilbur and Orville pulled the propellers, and the engine coughed to life. Solemnly, the two brothers shook hands. Then Orville climbed in, shifted his hips to check the wing-warping and rudder mechanisms, then moved the elevator up and down.
At 10:35 a.m., Orville slipped off the rope restraining the Flyer and the machine moved down the track, gathering speed to 30 mph and then … lifting into the air! As instructed, Daniels squeezed the camera bulb, unaware he was taking one of the most famous photos in history. The small group watching exploded into a ragged cheer. For 12 seconds, the airplane floundered forward, rising and falling, until it finally struck the sand 120 feet from the point it left the rails.
The others raced forward to congratulate Orville, then carried the machine back for more attempts. At 11:20 a.m., Wilbur also flew for 12 seconds but went 195 feet. At 11:40 a.m., Orville was up for 15 seconds and 200 feet. At noon, Wilbur turned in a remarkably even flight -soaring 852 feet in 59 seconds. Might they not make an even longer flight, he wondered, all the way to the telegraph office at Kitty Hawk?