Eyewitness Reports Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk Part 2

An eyewitness account of the Wright Brothers historic first airplane flight at Kitty Hawk.

The Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk

The Wrights' historic flight was largely ignored by the world outside Kitty Hawk, not, as is commonly believed, because of press apathy, but because of Wilbur's attempts to keep technical details secret until the Wrights could market the plane. After signing contracts in 1908 with both the U. S. army and a French commercial concern, the Wright brothers gave public demonstrations of their airplane and astounded a skeptical world. Rene Gasnier, a French aviator who witnessed one of Wilbur Wright's flights in France, exclaimed: "Compared with the Wrights, we are as children." Wilbur died of typhoid fever in 1912, but Orville continued his research until his death in 1948.

Eyewitness Report: One of the five spectators at the Wright brothers' first flight was John T. Daniels, a patrolman at the Kill Devil Hills Coast Guard station. Daniels remembered watching the Wrights during their first visit to Kitty Hawk and recounted his impressions in an interview for the Sept. 17, 1927, Collier's:

"We couldn't help thinkin' they were just a pair of poor nuts. We'd watch them from the windows of our station. They'd stand on the beach for hours at a time just looking at the gulls flying, soaring, dipping.....They would watch the gannets and imitate the movements of their wings with their arms and hands. They could imitate every movement of the wings of those gannets; we thought they were crazy, but we just had to admire the way they could move their arms this way and that and bend their elbows and wrist bones up and down and every which a way."

Then Daniels described the actual flight.

"Wilbur and Orville walked off from us and stood close together on the beach, talking low to each other for some time. After a while they shook hands, and we couldn't help notice how they held on to each other's hand, sort o' like they hated to let go; like two folks parting who weren't sure they'd ever see each other again.

"Wilbur came over to us and told us not to look sad, but to laugh and hollo and clap our hands and try to cheer Orville up when he started.

"We tried to shout and hollo, but it was mighty weak shouting, with no heart in it.

"Orville climbed into the machine, the engine was started up, and we helped steady it down the monorail until it got underway. The thing went off with a rush and left the rail as pretty as you please, going straight out into the air maybe 120 ft. when one of its wings tilted and caught in the sand, and the thing stopped...I like to think about that first airplane the way it sailed off in the air at Kill Devil Hills that morning, as pretty as any bird you ever laid your eyes on. I don't think I ever saw a prettier sight in my life."

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