Local News

Two Failed Attempts Of Wright Bros. Flight Put Damper On Festivities

Posted December 17, 2003 11:09 a.m. EST

— The second time was not the charm in an attempt to re-enact the Wright Brothers' first powered flight on its 100th anniversary.

At around 3:45 p.m., when a second attempt to get airborne was about to get underway, the wind was at 3 knots. But the wind needed to be at 10 knots for the replica Wright flyer to take flight. So the engine was turned off, and the second attempt was called off.

Officials said they do not plan to make another attempt, and the replica will go to a museum in Michigan.

Pilot Kevin Kochersberger hoped to fly the $1.2 million reproduction of the Wright flyer. The flight was scheduled to take place at 10:35 a.m. -- 100 years to the minute after Orville Wright's first 12-second, 120-foot flight. Unfavorable weather delayed the attempted re-enactment until around 12:30 p.m.

The plane traveled on the ground along a rail before coming to an abrupt halt without ever leaving the ground. Officials believed wind conditions and wet weather conditions were a factor for the replica not being able to get airborne.

Officials took the replica into a hangar to determine if there was any damage to it. An informal vote of spectators at the site in Kill Devil Hills made it clear that a second try was wanted.

The two flights were attempted after a visit by President George W. Bush to the Wright Brothers Memorial around 9:20 a.m. Bush's helicopter arrived in a downpour, and Bush made a speech commemorating the 100th anniversary of human flight.

In his speech

, Bush saluted two of America's greatest inventors, and noted that the Wright brothers launched an airplane in the face of great cynicism. The president also held them up alongside other great American inventors and argued that they embodied the American spirit.

Pro-space optimists had buzzed for weeks over whether Bush would use the 100th anniversary of the Wright brothers' flight to announce a new mission to the moon or to Mars. But the White House made clear the president had no such intentions.

Actor John Travolta, introducing Bush, told the president, "not only do I vote for that option, but I volunteer to go on the first mission."

Bush made no commitments on a new space mission, but said of Travolta: "We shall call him moon man from now on."

The Wright flyer "flew just 12 seconds and 40 yards," Bush noted. A second flight lasted 59 seconds.

"Yet everyone who was here at that hour sensed that a great line had been crossed and the world might never be the same," said Bush.

Bush traveled aboard one of the world's most recognizable descendants of the Wright flyer, but skipped the planned re-enactment.

Some 35,000 people were expected to watch, a far cry from the five local residents who watched the Wright brothers take flight.

Bush left the festivities due to a busy afternoon schedule, but the White House also reportedly was worried his presence could distract from the celebration.

The attempted re-enactment capped a weeklong festival honoring the Wrights' successful flights of Dec. 17, 1903.