An aviation pioneer and former astronaut explains why.

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 Join The Celebration Of The History Of Flight

Here are a few events where you and your family can celebrate the first 100 years of flight: Inventing Flight The Centennial Celebration in Dayton, Ohio

(www.inventingflight.org). The Wright Brothers’ hometown will celebrate with festivities that include an air show featuring demonstrations by the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds and U.S. Navy Blue Angels; appearances by John Glenn, Chuck Yeager, Neil Armstrong and others; and a tribute to the Tuskegee Airmen. July 3 rd to 20th, 2003.

The Wright Brothers & the Invention of the Aerial Age, Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. (www.nasm.si.edu) and click on (“Exhibitions”). This new exhibition will feature artifacts such as the Wright Brothers’ original airplane (shown at eye level for the first time), a bicycle built by the brothers and interactive computer displays, including a flight simulation of Wright aircraft. Opens Oct. 11 for a two-year run.First Flight Centennial Celebration in Kill Devil Hills, N.C. (www.firstflightcentennial.org).

The highlight of this six-day event will be a reenactment of the Wright Brothers’ historic flight in a reproduction 1903 airplane. Dec. 12 through 17.th, 2003, by Sen. John Glenn

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This year, 2003, marks the centennial anniversary of powered human flight. We asked Sen. John Glenn—the secretary general of the Inventing Flight celebrations, which begin this week in Dayton, Ohio, the home of the Wright Brothers—to share his perspective about the importance and legacy of their historic achievement.

FROM THE DAWN OF TIME, there had been men of a curious nature who aspired to fly. Leonardo da Vinci had studied the way birds go up and down, ahead and over. And more than 2000 years ago. the Chinese had used kites to learn about lift and drag. Despite many valiant attempts. no one had succeeded at powered

human flight.

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BUT! ON THE MORNING OF DECEMBER 17, 1903 two bicycle makers from Dayton, Ohio, Orville and Wilbur Wright, achieved the impossible: With Orville at the helm, their homemade flying machine (with a 12-horsepower engine) rose magnificently’ from the ground at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, and landed 120 feet away. By to-days standards, that might not seem impressive: The distance the. “Wright Flier” traveled was just a little over one-half the length of a Boeing 747. But that relatively short trip changed the world and gave birth to the age of modern aviation.

As a young boy growing up in Ohio, I learned about the Wright Brothers almost from my first day of school. They were remarkably tenacious, methodical men. And I admired how they learned everything they could from previous researchers and experimenters. then set out to correct or fill knowledge gaps.

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Even after their historic flight at Kitty Hawk, the Wright Brothers continued to refine their designs to solve problems such as lateral control—the ability to bank and change direction. They made more than a hundred (100) flights to test their hypotheses. Finally, in 1904 and 1905, the brothers developed truly maneuverable flight (turns, circles and figure eights) at Huffman Prairie, the site today of the U. S. Army Air Forces’s Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton. Ohio.

It took several years for aviation to take off. While the Wright Brothers historic achievement inspired experiments in other parts of the world. manned flight was largely a curiosity in America. Relatively few had actually witnessed it. At first. the brothers could not find customers for their aircraft. Then, in 1907—four years after the first flight at Kitty Hawk the Army Signal Corps requested proposals for “a heavier-than-air flying machine7 They wanted a machine that could travel at least 40 miles per hour. carry two passengers and be easy to operate. It was probably no accident that the specifications reflected exactly what the Wright Brothers already had been doing at Huffman Prairie . A few years later, the brothers formed the Wright Company and entered the airplane production business.

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Since that first flight a century ago. advances in aviation technology have been remarkably swift . Orville’s air speed at Kitty Hawk was 31 miles per hour. Just 44 short years later, Chuck Yeager flew faster than the speed of sound in the rocket-powered Bell X- I at the Muroc Army Air Base in California.

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It was to be 58 years to Alan Shepard’s suborbital start of our manned space program. Today. space shuttle astronauts orbit the Earth at 4.86 miles per second (17.500 miles per hour).

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I have been honored in my career to be part of the rich aviation history launched by the Wright Brothers. I .served as a young Marine pilot during World War II and was one of America~s first astronauts as part of the Mercury program in 1959.

Five years ago, I had the opportunity to join the crew of the STS-95 Discovery space shuttle. Before the launch Wick Wright the Wright Brother’s nephew, presented me with a piece of wing fabric that had flown at Kitty Hawk nine decades earlier. With NASA approval. I carried it proudly with me on the spaceflight. Later this year. the fabric will be presented to the National Air and Space Museum, where it will be displayed with the original “Wright Flyer.”

That stained bit of cloth symbolizes the curiosity that is at the heart of all progress. Someone has to think about how to do things differently, or believe there just may be “a better way.” But progress comes when one not only thinks about it hut also acts on that wonder. And that’s exactly what these ambitious bicycle makers did. changing the world for all time.

The spirit of exploration and innovation—so central to the Wright Brothers and to our nation’s greatness from our founding days—continues to inspire to-dav’s aviation pioneers to build flying machines that can travel higher. faster and more safely. Already there have been significant advances in designing a reusable rocket ship capab1e of carrying three passengers on a suborbital flight. Some experts predict that such a voyage could be accomplished within the next decade.

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And what about the next 100 years.? How far will we go? Will rocket ships be as common as cars today? Nothing is certain. but I believe well go as far as our energy. curiosity and imagination can take us.

For links to other events celebrating the centennial of flight, visit on the web: www.parade.com 

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