A century after Wilbur and Orville, US celebrations are ready for take-off

One hundred years on, researchers aim to recreate 12-second journey
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The Independent US

One hundred years after Wilbur and Orville Wright made history on North Carolina's Outer Banks, America is preparing to celebrate that first powered flight, which lasted just 12 seconds.

George Bush will lead the national celebrations with a speech at the town of Kitty Hawk where the Wright brothers made their 120ft flight on a damp and cold day on 17 December, 1903. There had been speculation that President Bush would use the occasion to announce a major new US space programme but this has been denied by the White House.

In the absence of any cosmic project, there are two main events to mark the Wright brothers' anniversary. A five-day event in Kitty Hawk will conclude on 17 December with an attempt by a $1.2m replica of the Flyer to recreate the first-ever flight, which was made by Orville. A second attempt that day will seek to recreate the second, longer flight, made by Wilbur.

The event will also include a "flyby" involving 100 planes passing over the 60ft monument that marks the sand dune where the two brothers from Ohio conducted their glider tests. A Beach Boys concert is also on the agenda.

Meanwhile in Washington, on 15 December, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum will open a new wing, and display for the first time the fully restored Enola Gay, the B29 bomber that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan.

Erin Porter, a spokeswoman for First Flight Centennial Celebration, a collaboration of the National Park Service, the state of North Carolina, and the First Flight Centennial Foundation, said of the flyby: "You can expect it to be a great representation of aircraft from the last century."

The Wrights efforts to achieve powered flight lasted many years. Towards the end of 1899 they were looking for a place to conduct their trials and, according to the US Weather Bureau, Kitty Hawk was ideal offering good wind speeds and soft sand dunes.

"This in my opinion would be a fine place; our winds are always steady ... If you decide to try your machine here and come, I will take pleasure in doing all I can for your convenience, success and pleasure, and I assure you, you will find a hospitable people when you come among us," the postmaster of Kitty Hawk, Bill Tate, replied to a query from Wilbur. The brothers moved to what was then just a small fishing community and began their experiments in 1900.

They carried out many glider flights, some lasting just a few seconds. In all, the brothers, who originally owned a bicycle repair shop, managed 1,100 test glides. On their fourth trip to Kitty Hawk, they introduced a propeller for their plane.

Orville wrote in his diary that though the flight lasted just 12 seconds, it was the first time a piloted machine had risen into the air under its own power, moved forward without losing speed and "landed at a point as high as that from which it started".

It is far from certain that those seeking to emulate the brothers' exploits this month will be successful. On its second test flight in Kitty Hawk on 25 November, the replicaquickly crashed. Last week, another test flight was more successful. "We've learned from this whole process," said Kevin Kochersberger, a professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology and one of two pilots who will fly the replica. "I think that everybody in the shop here is thrilled we've been able to experience every aspect that the Wrights went through - the good things and bad things."

Sponsored by Ford, the reproduction plane was built by the Virginia-based project the Wright Experience.