the wright brothers

Salter_1-081315_jpg_600x642_q85James Salter at The New York Review of Books:

The Wrights’ first aircraft, really a large kite, was made of bamboo and paper and had two wings, one over the other, with struts and crisscross wires connecting them. A system of control cords enabled its flight to be directed from the ground. Although they ended with a crash, the tests were successful, the brothers felt, and the following summer they built a full-sized glider with an eighteen-foot wingspan meant to be flown as a kite and, if that went well, to carry a man. Like any kite, this very large kite-glider needed wind to rise on, and Wilbur had written to Octave Chanute, an eminent engineer and a leading authority on aviation and gliders, asking for advice—they were looking for a location with good weather and reliable wind where they could conduct tests. Chanute suggested the coast of South Carolina or Georgia where there was also sand for soft landings. Poring through Weather Bureau records they became focused on a wide strip of land in the Outer Banks of North Carolina occupied only by fishermen, called Kitty Hawk. The winds there, they were informed, were reliably steady at ten to twenty miles an hour.

Kitty Hawk was isolated and accessible only by boat. It was seven hundred miles from Dayton, most of it by train. Wilbur went first. It was September and still extremely hot. It took him four days to find a boatman who agreed to take him across Albemarle Sound and they ran into a storm. The voyage was only forty miles but it took them two days. Kitty Hawk, Wilbur saw, was comprised of not much more than a lonely stretch a mile wide and five miles long with a single small hill. There were some houses but almost no vegetation. To the east lay the open Atlantic.

more here.