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Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Random Thoughts on Flight 

Today is the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brother's lark over the dunes of Kill Devil Hills, but people had been going up in the air long before Wilbur and Orville. 21 November 2003 marked the 220th anniversary of the Montgolfier's balloon ascent from the garden of the Château de la Muette. (The Château de Balleroy Musée des Ballons commemorates that flight, along with the rest of the long history of ballooning.) Before that, in 6th Century China, early experiments with man-flying kites were made, and by the 13th Century, they were in common enough use for Marco Polo to make mention of them.

Back in March, we took a long weekend to the Outer Banks and visited the Wright Bothers National Memorial. It's a surprisingly sparse place, just a mix of sand and brambles with a small museum. Of course, things were still under construction for the new facility that opened last week. I imagine the exhibits are a good bit more than they were when we visited. Still, it was neat to walk over the ground where the Wrights conducted their proof-of-concept experiments and to see the markers noting the distance of each of the first four flights.

That was a nice trip, getting us out of town for a much needed break. We stayed at the Cameron House Inn in Manteo, which was quite nice; ate at 1587, which was fantastic; and spent a good bit of time exploring Roanoke Island, including Fort Raleigh, the North Carolina Aquarium, and looking for Mother Vineyard. We also visited two wineries on Knott Island: Martin Vineyards and Moonrise Bay, which had a really tasty sauvignon blanc that had some interesting, almost salty notes, that I attributed to its seaside origin.

The Wright Brothers also have a connection to the D.C. area, specifically the College Park Aviation Museum, which includes information about the Wright's role in military aviation and the College Park Airport's role as the first military flight school.

In the winter, driving home after dark, I can peek into the National Air and Space Museum, getting glimpses of various planes and spacecraft. It's one of those things that makes the commute home a little nicer, as well as a reminder of the images we have only in D.C. (Another would be the U.S. Capitol Holiday Tree, which was all lit up last night; I'm not sure when it went up things year, having been away from work and my normal commute since last Wednesday.)

One last thing, the Air and Space Museum Annex, a.k.a. the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, is now open. It's a gigantic facility (basically a huge hanger full of aircraft and spacecraft) that looks really cool. I don't know how soon before Evelin and I get out there, but I know my father will want to take a look next time my parents come to visit.

ADDENDUM: Well, it took the Wright Brothers about six weeks in Kitty Hawk before they achieved flight, so I guess it makes sense that today's re-enactment never really got off the ground. Now the replica is off to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.

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