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Orville and Wilbur: Men of the Mind

Orville Wright once said that he and his brother Wilbur “were lucky enough to grow up in an environment where there was always much encouragement to children to pursue intellectual interests; to investigate whatever aroused curiosity.”

On this day, in 1903, about four miles south of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, Orville got an answer to the question he often pondered: “If birds can glide for long periods of time, then . . . why can’t I?”

He could. But only after trying one design after another, gathering data from many experiments with his and his brother’s homemade wind tunnel, observing how birds fly, and adapting that to their own flyer and its ever-improving system of controls.

Orville’s first flight on this historic day was 120 feet; the second, 175; and the third, 200. The fourth flight that day, by Wilbur, was 852 feet. Two years later, after many iterations, Wilbur flew for 39 minutes, covering 24 miles.

For centuries, men had said that human flight was impossible. But these two brothers proved otherwise, thanks to their questioning, experimenting, and reasoning minds.

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