Through some stories we may learn a little more about the history of our area.

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Twelve Seconds that Changed the World

story by

Pat Gilberd
of  Buderim Queensland 4556 Australia

Pat is a Historian specialising in things aeronautical.  We will hear from Pat from time to time with stories that will be of interest to many of us.

Orville settled himself onto the lower wing.  Lying prone with his hips fitting snugly into the cradle where he could operate the wing warping mechanism.   Taking the elevator control in his left hand he paused as the four cylinder engine on his right and a little behind him came up to full power.  He released the restraining wire.  To the sound of the constant Kitty Hawk wind was now added the clattering of the four cylinder engine and the vibration of the two propellers and their driving belts.  As the machine gathered way Wilbur held the right wing tip and ran along steadying the craft.   At about six mph ground speed, maybe 25/30 mph airspeed the aircraft rose into the air.  Wilbur released his hold on the wing tip and looked up to behold mans’ first heavier than air controlled powered flight.

The flight lasted twelve seconds and covered a distance of 120 feet. It was 10:35 am Thursday 17th December 1903. The Wright brothers had given the world its first great achievement for the twentieth century.  Before the end of the century man would have been to the moon and back and be moving millions of people daily by air to almost anywhere they wished to go.

The Wright brothers were born in Dayton Ohio.  At the time of the first flight Wilbur was thirty six years old and Orville thirty two.   From all accounts they had a close relationship but retained their individuality.  Most of the many problems they ran into were solved by drawn out searching discussions, others were argued out over long periods.

It was from their mother Susan Wright that they inherited their practical talents.

Susan Wright's father had been a designer and builder of carriages and wagons.   As a young person she had spent much time in her father’s workshop.   With the skills she had acquired during those years she was able to make simple household utilities for herself and apparently make and fix toys for her family.

Wilbur and Orville inherited much of her practical nature and ability to understand and visualise concepts.

The brothers owned and operated a bicycle shop. Winter was a quiet time in the bicycle business which gave the two men time to indulge their interest in the theory of flight and the practical problems involved in achieving it.   By the turn of the century they had reached a stage where they were anxious to test some of their ideas.

Wilbur corresponded with the U.S. Weather Bureau.  They suggested Kitty Hawk.  It offered unrestricted space with reliable wind velocity in a steady direction.

The Wright brothers were to use Kitty Hawk for the next four years to test their evolving designs.  By 1902 they had solved many of the problems they encountered and were achieving gliding flights of up to 600 feet distance and durations of 26 seconds.  They decided the time had come to add power and with it propulsion to their design.

The brothers could find no suitable light weight engine that would give sufficient power.  Astonishingly they decided to make their own.  Working with them in the bicycle shop was a highly skilled and enthusiastic mechanic Charles Taylor.  With Charles help a crankshaft was cut, an ignition system was devised, a fuel pump and a vaporising system designed.  On the first bench test the bearings overheated and seized causing the crankcase to crack.   Another was made.  The problems were many and varied but all were confronted and solved.  By May of 1903 the engine was performing adequately.

The next hurdle was the construction of the two propellers.  These proved to be difficult.  They had calculated that the propellers would need to be eight feet six inches in diameter.  Finally they made the two propellers from laminated spruce reinforced with canvas at the ends.  Many years later the propellers were tested and shown to be over 70% efficient.

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So it was all slowly coming together.  The Wright brothers were never lucky.  Every conclusion they came to was the result of intense study, concentration and trials.  They were going in theory and fact where few had been before.  Their great courage and persistence in the face of many reverses had brought them to the brink of mans’ first powered flight.

Finally on Monday 14th December everything was ready.  Wilbur won the toss.  They shook hands and took up their positions.  Wilbur lying in the pilots position on the lower wing.  Orville at the wing tip.  With the engine chattering and the rattle of propeller driving chains the aircraft moved forward gathering speed.  It lifted, steadied at about fifteen feet then slowly descended clipping one wing tip as it touched the ground.

Flying? Barely.  Sixty feet distance in about three and a half seconds.   Not enough to be convincing.  The machine was carried back to the construction shed to be made ready for another attempt.

The weather was now turning cold.  There was ice in the puddles in the mornings.  Time was against them.  Thursday 17th December dawned cold and blustery.  The aircraft was moved to the take off track with the help of the five observers that had been assembled Orville settled into the aircraft, signalled to Wilbur, then released the tethering line.  Wilbur running at the side released his grip as the machine lifted into the air.  120 feet and 12 seconds later the world entered into a new era.

Three further flights were made that day, culminating with an impressive distance of 852 feet in a flying time of 59 seconds. An emphatic end to a momentous day.

Years later, during the course of the Second World War, Orville was asked if he regretted being involved with the invention of the aeroplane, he replied. “I feel about the aeroplane much as I do in regard to fire.  That is, I regret all the terrible damage caused by fire.  But I think it is good for the human race that someone discovered how to start fires, and that it is possible to put fire to thousands of important uses.”

I am sure that there are many more of you out there who have bits of
information that would be of great interest to the rest of us.  

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Like the naked city there are a thousand stories in the
Sunshine Coast Hinterland

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