The Fifth Flight: 1903

Jack Farrow, guest writer

“Amos! Amos!” I turned around. “You left one of your books at your desk!” exclaimed Miss Barbra, my eighth-grade teacher. “There’s too many books to keep track of,” I said with a grin. On my way back out, she smiled then told me my schooling would be worthwhile one day.
After telling Miss Barbra goodbye, I headed home where my mom would have supper cooking. It was a crisp, fall, Friday afternoon—blue sky shone through the red and yellow foliage on the trees. A slight breeze skipped leaves across the road. After the brisk half-mile walk home, I ran up the stairs to my room, dropped my book bag, checked the radio to see if my team won the World Series, and whisked into the well-lit kitchen, all without my mom noticing me.
“How was your day?” Mom inquired. She faced the range while welcoming aromas filled the room. Mom always made sure our family had everything we needed. Being an only child, the task was much simpler compared to other families we knew. Mom, a lovely woman, had been the apple of my Father’s eye ever since they met.
“Did you learn anything new?”
“Eh, not really,” I replied, giving the usual fourteen-year-old response to the question. “Well, supper is almost done and Father said he will be home early today!”
My dad, a craftsman at a carriage company, built beautiful horse-drawn carriages which the upper classes adored. Also, Mom was looking to get a job soon. The recent trend of women in the workplace had inspired her.
“Oh! Just in time,” exclaimed Mom as the back door slammed shut.
“Something smells good!” my dad said eagerly.
“Nothing fancy, just chicken and rice.”
“Well Amos,” Dad sat down at the kitchen table. “I’ve been thinking it is about time you apprentice. I was about your age when I started.”
My heart skipped. I had never worked among strangers. The extent of my labor included yard work, and in the winter, clearing snow. “Where am I going,” was the thought ringing in my head.
“The bicycle shop on the edge of town…” I snapped back to reality. “…has a sign in the window. It says that help is wanted and apprenticeship is available; I think it’s time you start working.”
* * * *
“Your birthday is coming up, isn’t it?” asked Wilbur, through the noise of clinking tools.
“I will be sixteen.”
“I remember when you started apprenticeship. It seems like yesterday. Hard to believe it has been a year. We had many immigrants try to apply, but you were the best one for the job. After you finish putting the chain on your bike, I want to show you something. I think you’ll like it.”
After calling Orville over, the brothers and I made our way to the back shed. Music from the new motion picture Great Train Robbery played as we walked through the door. Orville and Wilbur had been talking about something over the past month. I picked out words here and there, such as “aerofoil” “bird” and “propeller.” I knew what a bird was, but none of the others made any sense. Orville opened the sliding door to the shed. Once the single, hanging light bulb was turned on, I could start to make out the items which filled the musty room. A stuffed sparrow sat on the shelf, blueprints laid in no particular order, and various writing utensils and geometry tools were strewn on the workbench. Articles about new Ford and Harley Davidson companies were stacked on a chair. At first, I did not know what to make of the scene.
“What is this place?” I questioned quietly.
Wilbur grinned. “I knew you would be interested.”
“Well…what have you been working on!” The thought ran through my head. Orville and Wilbur were older and I needed to show them that my maturity was equal to theirs.
“You’ll have to explain to me what this is.”
“It is a design for a flying machine, not a hot air ballon, but a machine that flies like a bird.”
I peered over the blueprints on the table. The plans showed what appeared to be wings. Two wooden planks on either side of the driver were connected to a small automobile engine by a metal shaft.
“What do those do.” I inquired as I pointed to the curious picture.
“We named those devices ‘propellers.’ They push the machine through the air, hopefully.”
“Have you started building it?”
“Not yet, no one is willing to give us an engine. Most people think our contraption will fall out of the air. But! Orville and I are going to make our own engine!”
“How are you going to do that with the tools from the bike shop?” I challenged him.
“See Amos, determination will get you anywhere. We’ve put together countless models and none of them flew, but we did not give up and eventually we built a model that flew.”
“And you’re going to do the same with the engine?”
“ Precisely.”
This whole time, Orville was studying the blueprints behind us. I turned around and watched the gears turning in his mind. Orville had a mechanical mind while Wilbur had a logical one. Many people knew that “Wilbur was a bright and studious child, and excelled in school”(History). Once they started a project, they were driven to finish it. It was a characteristic that I would learn to use.
* * * *
My eyes snapped open, I fell out of bed, and landed squarely on some torn wrapping paper. Paper left over from my fifteenth birthday a few days ago. The clock on the wall read 4 o’clock. Being early December, the weather is usually frigid, but today it felt unseasonably mild. I put on my clothes and snuck downstairs to prevent waking my parents. They knew not to expect me for breakfast since I would be leaving early. After grabbing a snack from the cupboard, I slipped into the morning fog and made my way toward the bicycle shop.
It was hard control my excitement. Orville and Wilbur had invited me to accompany them to Kitty Hawk. Today was the day that the brothers’ new flying machine would be tested. It had been the only thought my mind would focus on for the past week. Last Sabbath, I tried with all my might to listen and pay attention during church. All thoughts in my mind involved machines and the idea of flying. As I approached the shop, dim light poured from the windows acting as a guide through the fog. I heard voices and objects being moved about. Stepping through the threshold, I was greeted by Orville.
“Do you mind helping me lift this into the wagon?” he asked.
I observed pieces of track.
“What is this?” I questioned.
“It is a launcher. The airplane needs speed to get off the ground. It will sit on a cart and roll down the track to gain speed. By the way, we named the machine ‘airplane.’”
I helped pack all the pieces of equipment required for the day and found a seat on one of the wagons. It was an hour ride to the sand dunes allowing my mind to drift to how my job did not really seem like a job. I remember my parents telling me that God gave us work not to make us miserable, but as a way to feel fulfillment and satisfaction. Thoughts swirled through my head which was feeling heavy and drowsy from waking up so early.
The hour flew past and soon we were at the dunes. A flat stretch of sand with a steady wind running the same direction was found. I did not talk to Orville or Wilbur as much as I thought I would. Word had gotten out that the brothers were testing an airplane. Reporters, photographers, and even a cinematographer surrounded our equipment. All they were talking about was the airplane. Some thought the world was going to change while others said it was a silly stunt. Suddenly, there was a shout. Wilbur came running towards the group of people.
“Clear the way! Clear the way!”
That was my cue. I knelt in the sand, waiting for the signal to release the chock that kept the cart from rolling. I saw the signal, yanked the chock out of place, and sprinted out of the way. My part was done. The plane was ready. Everyone was quiet. All eyes watched Orville lay down inside the plane. With the controls in his hand, the homemade engine sputtered to life. The spinning propellers blew sand all around. All the equipment was set. Orville gave the thumbs up. Things started moving quickly. The weight fell, the plane lurched forward. Once the rope let loose, to everyone’s utter disbelief, the plane lifted off the ground. No one could outrun it! The machine was actually flying! Once it started to drift toward earth, the skids on the bottom let it slide to a stop. I jumped in the air with excitement. The crowd cheered. I saw Wilbur motion for me to come over.
“That was amazing, it flew!” I exclaimed.
“It worked!” shouted Wilbur. “We have to retrieve it and go again.”
I followed Wilbur to the plane. We were patting each other on the back and congratulating Orville. Spirits were at an all time high. After dragging the plane back, it was ready for another flight. This time, it was Wilbur’s turn and he broke his brother’s record of 120 feet. The brothers each flew once more with Wilbur setting a final record of 852 feet. Not far, but none the less, true flight. Applications for planes would not be thought of yet, but this type of travel would prove the most “available and affordable” (The).
A human flew for the first time in history. A milestone for innovation and achievement.
* * * *
As the crowds dispersed that afternoon, the brothers offered to let me fly. I flew the fifth unofficial flight that day. Since the had crowds left, no reporters recorded the flight and it would remain lost in history.
As I look back on that day when I was a boy, I saw a baby step. Not only did the first plane fly, but my love for planes started. Years later, I met a man who shared the same passion, Francis Pratt. Now, after a lifetime of dedication, Pratt and Whitney is one of the world’s leading forces in aviation engineering and manufacturing. Not many of the passengers on the airlines today think of the very first day man took to the skies—but I was there. Without the urge
from my dad to do an apprenticeship, my passion to push mankind into the wild, blue yonder
would not exist.
Amos Whitney

Works Cited Staff., 2009. Wright Brothers. A+E Networks. Web. January 6.

“The 1900s Lifestyles and Social Trends: Overview.” n.d.Web.
January 30.
“Inventing a Flying Machine.” Air and n.d.Web. January 31.
McCullough, David. The Wright Brothers. Simon & Schuster, 2016. Print.
“Orville Wright Biography.” The n.d.Web. January 31.