Broadcast: December 17, 2003
This is Faith Lapidus.
And this is Steve Ember with EXPLORATIONS from VOA Special English. Today we bring you the third program in our series that honors the Wright Brothers’ first powered flight. It took place one-hundred years ago today. We will tell more about their famous aircraft. And we will tell about a new museum that has hundreds of aircraft important in the history of flight.
Let us go back to July, nineteen-sixty-nine. The Apollo Eleven spacecraft has left Earth and is on its way to the moon. Apollo Eleven is carrying the first humans who will land on the moon.
The spacecraft is also carrying a few small pieces of very old wood and cloth material. They are from the first aircraft to leave the ground and return using its own power. Apollo Eleven is traveling into space to honor two American brothers -- Orville and Wilbur Wright.
The cloth and wood are from the Wright Brothers nineteen-oh-three Flyer, the most important aircraft in the history of aviation. It was this airplane that began a revolution in the science of flight. It was this revolution that led to the successful flight of Apollo Eleven. It is a revolution that is leading us into the future.
The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum is near the United States Capitol building in Washington, D-C. The Air and Space Museum is the most visited museum in the world.
This year, almost eleven-million people came to see airplanes and spacecraft that are important to the history of flight. The National Air and Space Museum is the home of the largest collection of important aircraft in the world.
The Air and Space Museum building was completed in nineteen-seventy-six. One of the first things that visitors saw when they entered the museum was the famous Wright Brothers airplane -- the nineteen-oh-three Flyer. Museum officials placed the Flyer several meters above the heads of visitors near the main door. It was hung by wires from the ceiling in a place of honor. Other important aircraft were placed near it.
Almost all visitors stopped and looked up at the Wright Flyer. The world’s first airplane is the most important aircraft in the collection of the National Air and Space Museum.
Recently, the Wright Brothers’ Flyer was taken down from its place of honor. It was moved to a special area in the museum. It was placed in a large room. Museum officials say it will remain there for about two years.
This special room honors the one-hundredth anniversary of the Wright Brothers’ first flight. The new display was opened to the public on October eleventh. It is called “The Wright Brothers and the Invention of the Aerial Age.”
The special room holds the Flyer and many objects that are important to the story of the Wright Brothers. The Flyer is no longer hanging from the ceiling. It rests on the floor. Visitors can come very near the famous airplane. They can walk around it and examine it closely.
The Wright Flyer is a very beautiful airplane. The cloth material that covers the wings has been replaced. It is a soft white color. The wooden pieces are a light brown color. The airplane has two large wings, one on top, one below. The wings are about twelve meters long. Two smaller wings are in front of the Flyer. These small wings are control devices used to make the Flyer go up or down.
In the center of the lower wing is a human-like form dressed in clothing similar to what the Wright Brothers wore one-hundred years ago. To the right of this form is the Flyer’s small engine. The engine is linked to two devices that turn the Flyer’s two large propellers.
Many pieces of wire have been placed between the wings and other surfaces to add strength and support. The total weight of the Flyer is only two-hundred-seventy-four kilograms.
Visitors smile when they enter the room. Most visitors already know the story of the Wright Brothers and they know what this small aircraft represents. If you stay in the room for a few minutes you can hear visitors speaking many languages. For example, a group of visitors from China stops to inspect the plane. Several take pictures of each other standing in front of the Flyer.
Students from Spain discuss how the Flyer is made of simple materials. A man and woman from Germany ask a man from the American state of Alaska to take their picture near the Flyer. Other visitors inspect many of the objects linked to the Wright Brothers and their famous flight.
One of these objects is a letter the Wright Brothers wrote in eighteen-ninety-nine. The letter was sent to the Smithsonian Institution asking for information about flying. Photographs of the two brothers show them at work, building their aircraft.
Visitors can see the silver watch that the brothers used to observe the time of each of the four flights the Flyer made on December seventeenth, nineteen-oh-three. And there are a few pieces of wood and cloth material from the Flyer. These are the same pieces that were carried by the crew of the Apollo Eleven spacecraft when it went to the moon and returned to Earth in July, nineteen-sixty-nine.
The Wright Brothers’ airplane is just one of several hundred aircraft the National Air and Space Museum has collected. The museum celebrates the development of aviation and space flight.
Its job is to collect, repair and display aircraft and space flight equipment that are of interest to history. It is also a center for research into the history, science and technology of aviation and space flight.
The museum building in Washington, D-C shows many aircraft. However, it can only show about ten percent of the aircraft the museum has collected. Many of the museum’s famous aircraft have been kept in special buildings that have not always been open to the public.
That situation changed on Monday. That is when the National Air and Space Museum’s new Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center opened to the public. It is named for a businessman who gave sixty-five-million dollars to help build the center. The new building will be the permanent home to more than two-hundred aircraft and one-hundred-thirty-five spacecraft in the museum’s collection.
The new Udvar-Hazy Center is near the Dulles International Airport in Virginia. The huge main area is about twenty-seven-thousand square meters. The center includes a fifty-meter tall observation tower. Visitors can listen to the Dulles International Airport control tower as air traffic controllers talk to aircraft pilots. Visitors can also watch aircraft landing and taking off from this busy airport.
The aircraft in the display area of the Udvar-Hazy Center are all very different. Some are more than ninety years old. Others are almost new. One of these is the Air France Concorde. The Concorde was the only passenger jet ever to travel faster than two times the speed of sound. That is more than two-thousand-one-hundred kilometers an hour. The Concorde was a gift to the museum from Air France airlines. It arrived at Dulles Airport on its last passenger flight from Paris in June.
Visitors will also want to see the famous S-R-Seventy-One Blackbird built by the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation. The Blackbird was a military intelligence aircraft that carried no weapons. It is still the fastest aircraft ever built and holds many speed records. It could fly at more than three-thousand-seven hundred kilometers an hour. This is more than three times the speed of sound. And it could fly near the edge of space at twenty-six-thousand meters above the Earth.
In the past three weeks, we have told about the Wright Brothers and the revolution they began in the science of flight. We have told about some of the events to honor them. You too can take part in these celebrations if you have a computer that can link with the Internet communications system. You can even see the new Udvar-Hazy Center and many of the aircraft it holds. You can do this by using your computer to search for the letters n-a-s-m -- the National Air and Space Museum. Or go to the museum’s Web site: www.nasm.si.edu.
This program was written by Paul Thompson. It was produced by Mario Ritter. This is Steve Ember.
And this is Faith Lapidus. Join us again next week for EXPLORATIONS from VOA Special English.