A century after the Wright brothers made history above the sand dunes of North Carolina, a crowd of 30,000 gathered yesterday to celebrate that first, powered, heavier-than-air flight. But efforts to recreate the historic "hop" that lasted 12 seconds was marred with problems, from bad weather and failure to get the reproduction plane off the ground.
President George Bush and a host of America's flying heroes were there to see what was to have been a re-enactment of the brothers' achievement, 100 years to the minute that Orville Wright took to the skies near the town of Kitty Hawk..
"On the day they did fly, just like today, the conditions were not ideal," Mr Bush, clad in a poncho, told the crowd on the dunes at Kill Devil Hills, south of the coastal town. "The Wright brothers hit disappointments along the way. There must have been times when they had to fight their own doubts. They pressed on, believing in the great work they had begun and in their own capacity to see it though. We would not know their names today if these men had been pessimists."
A meticulously constructed reproduction of the brothers' Wright Flyer had been built by a Virginia-based non-profit group, the Wright Experience. An engineering professor, Kevin Kochersberger, was selected to fly it. But after a sudden downpour,Professor Kochersberger was unable to achieve sufficient lift as the plane trundled down its runway. A second attempt was to be made last night. One of the special guests, the former astronaut John Glenn, who in 1962 became the first American to orbit the earth a year after the Soviet Union's Yuri Gagarin, said he had been captivated with flight as a boy in 1929, when he flew with his father in a two-seater plane near their home in Ohio.
"We sat in the back with one seat-belt strapped across both of us," the 82-year-old said. "Looking down, I was hooked from then on. I guess I never got tired of it. Just being able to see things as they are from that altitude, for me it's just always been an enjoyable experience."
At a press conference, the astronaut, Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, called for more support for Nasa. "A number of us have been talking about the Moon and Mars for quite a while," he said. Also present was Charles "Chuck" Yeager. In 1947, just 44 years after the Wright brothers' initial achievement, he was the first person to fly faster than the speed of sound.
Mr Yeager, whose record was set above Rogers Lake, California, was among the few people present who actually met a Wright brother. He said he encountered Orville at an air show in 1945 when Orville saw his first jet plane. "To be a part of the Wright brothers' 100th anniversary, it just makes you feel kind of clamped-up inside," he said.
On 17 December, 1903, Orville and Wilbur took turns to pilot their plane on four test flights. The longest, flown by Wilbur, was the last, and lasted for 59 seconds and went 852ft. Then a gust of wind caught their plane, flipped it over and destroyed it.Reuse content