Monday, August 22, 2011

The Wright Brothers, the Aircraft Carrier...and Ultrarunning

Just back from a week at Nags head, along the beautiful North Carolina Outer Banks.  This is an annual pilgrimage we make with the kids and grandbabies, renting a 5 bedroom house (although for some strange reason, rental houses there are called "cottages"...even those with multiple bedrooms...go figure.) We stayed in South Nags Head, a few miles south of Kitty Hawk and the site of the Wright brothers' first successful, sustained, controlled, powered flight of a heavier than air machine.

This event took place on December 17, 1903.  You've probably seen the iconic photograph above (credit here from the National Park Service site).

The National Park Service's Wright Brothers Memorial is a really cool attraction.  The museum and visitor center are good, and you can wander around outside at the actual site of the four flights on that day some 108 years ago. Plus you can hike the trail to the top of a big dune where sits a large and inspiring monument to the event.

Now, let's move on to trivia.  Given that the first real flight was this one in Dec 1903, how long was it before the military folks conceived and executed the bright idea of landing a plane, and then taking off, from the deck of a Navy ship?  In other words, when was the first aircraft carrier?HINT: The ship was the cruiser, the USS Pennsylvania.

HINT: The pilot was Eugene B. Ely

HINT: Location was San Francisco Bay

ANSWER follows the photo....

Here's the shot (image credit here, along with a great narrative of the accomplishment):

The event took place on 18 Jan 2011...less than 8 years after man first flew an airplane!  That, my friends, is an astounding accomplishment.

On the morning of January 18, 1911, Eugene Ely, in a Curtiss pusher biplane specially equipped with arresting hooks on its axle, took off from Selfridge Field (Tanforan Racetrack, in San Bruno, Calif.) and headed for the San Francisco Bay. After about 10 minutes flying North toward Goat Island (now Yerba Buena), Eugene spotted his target through the gray haze the PENNSYLVANIA. on the morning of January 18, 1911, Eugene Ely, in a Curtiss pusher biplane specially equipped with arresting hooks on its axle, took off from Selfridge Field and headed for the San Francisco Bay.

Ely's plane was first sighted one-half mile from the PENNSYLVANIA's bridge at an altitude of 1,500 feet, cruising at a speed of approximately 60 mph. Now ten miles out from Tanforan, he circled the several vessels of the Pacific Fleet at anchor in San Francisco Bay. The aeroplane dipped to 400 feet as it passed directly over the MARYLAND and, still dropping, flew over the WEST VIRGINIA's bow at an height of only 100 feet. With a crosswind of almost 15 knots, he flew past the cruiser and then banked some 500 yards from the PENNSYLVANIA's starboard quarter to set up his landing approach. Ely now headed straight for the ship, cutting his engine when he was only 75 feet from the fantail, and allowed the wind to glide the aircraft onto the landing deck. At a speed of 40 mph Ely landed on the centerline of the PENNSYLVANIA's deck at 11:01 a.m.

Oh, and the link to Ultrarunning?  Sometimes, not often, a day is just your day.  A day when it all seems effortless, when every variable that could have derailed you breaks in your favor, when you are just easily gliding around as Eugene Ely did 100 years ago, finding his target and heading in with speed and confidence.  When you reach the critical juncture where you must either commit or abort, and you know, you just know, that this is your day and it'll all flow perfectly.  And when Ely accepted the cheers and backslaps on the deck of the USS Pennsylvania, and you accept the hugs and cheers of your loved one as well as strangers at the finish line, you both knew it was meant to be at that moment in time.


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