Wright Brothers – Famous Aviators

Articles relating to the famous aviators of the world other than the Wright Brothers.

The Wright Brothers sold their first airplane to the U.S. Amy in 1909. It would be 39 years later before the first black man was able to fly for the U.S. military. This is the story of that pilot.

Many people have heard of the Tuskegee Airmen, the first African-American U.S. Army pilots who flew during World War II. Less well known is Jesse Leroy Brown, the first African-American U.S. Navy pilot who flew during the Korean War.

Blessed with strong determination, he overcame racial barriers of the times while making many unlikely friends. Shot down in Korea in 1950, his story is an inspiration to all and an example of the commonality of man.

Born a sharecropper’s son in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Jesse dreamed of becoming a pilot after his father had taken him to a local air show when he was just six years of age. First, however, he realized he had to go to college. Ohio State University (OSU) was his choice since one of his heroes was Jesse Owens, the great black Olympic champion. Owens had been a track star at OSU. Jesse Brown was a track star in high school.

Ignoring advice that he should attend a black school instead of OSU, Jesse enrolled in the engineering school in 1944 with the intent of becoming an architect. Although there were few black students at OSU and only seven had received diplomas the previous year, he received a friendly reception from his classmates.

Jesse was excited to find that OSU had a Naval Reserve Officer Training Corp (NROTC) program that could lead to pilot training. The Navy recruiter, however, told him bluntly that the Navy had no black pilots and had no plans to have any.

Undeterred, he passed the Navy exams and during his second year of college he entered Navy pilot training. Pilot training is tough and being black didn’t make it any easier. While he experienced racial prejudice, his fellow trainees and instructors for the most part treated him like any other trainee and in some cases even encouraged him.

Jesse earned his golden wings on October 21, 1948, the first black person to do so. His picture appeared in Life magazine.

The Navy had a strict rule that no marriages were permitted until after graduation from flight school. Jesse was in love and he was certainly not averse to taking risks. He ignored the prohibition and married his high school sweetheart, Daisy, during his training even though he risked being kicked out of the program. He successfully kept it a secret even though it became more difficult after Daisy became pregnant.

Jesse’s life changed abruptly in 1950 when 100,000 Chinese soldiers poured into North Korea over the Yalu River, trapping 8,000 Marines. The Marines had to run a gauntlet to the sea where they could be rescued. Jesse’s squadron, flying off the USS Leyte, was assigned to protect the Marines.

Flying his 20th mission, Jesse’s Corsair was hit by ground fire over hostile territory and lost power. The only place to land was on the side of a mountain covered by snow. LTJG Thomas Hudner, a Naval Academy graduate and Jesse’s wingman watched in horror as Jesse’s plane pancaked hard on the mountainside.

Hudner was briefly buoyed by hope to see Jesse wave from the open canopy. But he wasn’t making any effort to get out of the cockpit. Something was very wrong, and to make matters worse, there was smoke rising from the shattered plane.

Hudner made a quick decision to try to rescue Jesse. That meant crash landing his plane next to Jesse on the side of the mountain, which he successfully did. Meanwhile, the rest of the squadron circled overhead to watch for Chinese soldiers and radioed for a rescue helicopter.

Hudner found Jesse trapped in the buckled cockpit without his helmet and gloves in below zero temperature and undetermined internal injuries. He covered Jesse’s head with a wool cap and his numb hands with a scarf and used the snow to put out the smoldering fire. But he couldn’t budge Jesse no matter how hard he tried.

Charlie Ward, a pilot friend of Jesse’s, arrived, making a difficult landing with the helicopter. Charlie had an axe, but that didn’t help free Jesse since the axe just bounced off the metal surface of the plane. Jesse kept getting weaker as the two men desperately tried to free him.

Their efforts were for naught and Jesse died as they worked in frustration. His last words were, “Tell Daisy that I love her.” Hudner and Ward wept.

Back on the ship, Jesse’s squadron debated what to do. They didn’t want to leave him for the Chinese so they decided to give Jesse a “warriors funeral.” The next day seven aircraft left the carrier and flew over the crash site. While one plane accelerated in a vertical climb toward heaven, the others dove and released their bombs on the mountainside. The voice of one of the pilots could be heard over the radio reciting the Lord’s Prayer.

On April 13, 1951, President Truman awarded the Medal of Honor to Jesse’s friend and wingman, Thomas Hudner. Jesse was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal and the Purple Heart.

On March 18, 1972 the Navy christened the Destroyer Escort, USS Jesse L. Brown. It was the first Naval Ship named after an African-American.

Charles A. Lindbergh’s solo first flight from New York to Paris in 1927 captured the imagination of the world and made him the first modern media star. With very little sleep the night before and carrying five sandwiches and a quart of water, he flew 3610 miles into history.

The flight, more than any other single flight since the Wright Brothers, revolutionized aviation.

In early morning drizzle, Lindbergh bounced along the wet, muddy runway of Roosevelt Field, New York. At the last moment, he was able to lift the fuel laden, silver “Spirit of St. Louis,” off the runway and barely clear the telephone lines at the end of the runway.

Several others had tried to make the trip before Lindbergh, but failed. Six lost their lives. French war ace Charles Nungesser and Francois Coli made the most recent attempt. They took off from Paris headed for New York on May 8 and were never heard from again.

The Spirit of St. Louis

These failed attempts were made with multiengine airplanes and had more than one pilot. Lindbergh believed that he could be successful by keeping things simple and holding weight to a minimum. He would be the only pilot. There would be only one engine because more than one raised the probability of an engine failure. Also, a single engine has more range than a multiengine plane because the single engine in the nose provides a streamlined profile that reduces drag.

Lindbergh found financial support for his venture from eight businessmen in St. Louis. One of them, the president of the local chamber of commerce, suggested the name, “Spirit of St. Louis,” for the airplane.

Lindbergh found a small company, the Ryan Aircraft Corporation, located in San Diego that agreed to custom build an airplane for him in two months that would have a cruising range of 3,500 miles. The price was $10,580. They designed a high-wing monoplane containing an extra-large fuel tank.

The power is provided by a 223-horsepower Wright Whirlwind J-5-C radial air-cooled engine capable of a cruising speed of 108 mph. The Wright Aeronautical Corporation manufactured the engine. The company retained the Wright Brothers name both no longer had any ties with the Wright Brothers.

The body of the plane was constructed of tubular steel, wooden ribs and wings and covered with silver painted fabric. A large 425-gallon main fuel tank was placed directly in back of the engine as a safety factor.

Lindbergh wanted the cockpit built behind the fuel tank so that he would not be crushed in the event of a crash. The downside of this design was that his forward vision was blocked. This necessitated the provision of a periscope for forward vision to go along with the vision out of the side windows.

Grandson Celebrates 75th Anniversary of Flight

In contrast, on May 2, 2002, Erik Lindbergh commemorated the 75th anniversary of his grandfather’s 1927 flight in a state-of the-art Lancair 300 airplane. The Lancair is a lightweight carbon-and-fiberglass plane capable of cruising at 185 mph with its 310 horsepower engine. It is equipped with satellite communications and global positioning. Three seats were removed to accommodate an extra fuel tank that enables the Lancair a 3600-mile range capability. The cost of the plane was $289,000.

Erick, age 36, made the trip in 17 hours. It took his grandfather twice as long.

The 1927 Flight

On May 20, 1927 the Spirit of St. Louis was sitting at the western end of the mile-long runway ready to take off. The 25-year old Lindbergh might have thought back to when at age 8 he first became enamored with flying. His father had taken him to see an air show involving airplanes like the Wright biplane.

In the final checkout before take-off, Lindbergh realized that the compass was mounted too high to read easily. The problem was corrected with a woman’s compact mirror and some chewing gum to serve as adhesive.

The plane would have 5,000 feet in which to lift off and gain enough altitude to clear telephone lines near the end of the runway. The plane contained 2,750 pounds of gasoline and 140 pounds of oil. The plane itself weighed 2,150 pounds. Lindbergh weighed 170 pounds and there were 40 additional miscellaneous pounds. Lindbergh carried no parachute, radio or sextant to conserve weight. The plane had never before carried this much weight on takeoff.

Lindbergh had five sandwiches for nourishment. He was asked if that was enough food. He answered: “If I get to Paris, I won’t need any more, and if I don’t get to Paris, I won’t need any more, either.”

The newspapers were not optimistic. They referred to Lindbergh as the “flying fool.”

At 7:51 a.m. the plane started down the runway in a drizzle. At the halfway mark, the point where he had to decide if he was going to abort to avoid a crash, the plane still wasn’t airborne. He kept going.

The plane briefly bounced. With 2,000 feet to go, the plane bounced a second time. Now there was only 1,000 feet left. One last time he attempted to lift the plane sharply enough to clear the telephone lines. This time the plane responded. The plane was airborne and cleared the telephone lines by less than 20 feet. The crowd cheered. He was on his way to Paris.

The next big challenge would be to stay awake during the expected 36-hour flight. A prospect made more difficult by the fact that he had not gotten any sleep the night before because of tension and noise outside his hotel room.

The first leg of the flight took him over New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Leaving the U.S. mainland, he had to navigate 250 miles over water without a landmark to Nova Scotia. He arrived there without incident, only six miles off course.

The next objective was Newfoundland, another two hundred miles away over water. This was the last landmark before the big leap over the Atlantic. Already fatigue was starting to have it effects. His eyes were feeling “dry and hard as stones” and he had trouble keeping them open.

He was experiencing a condition known as “microsleep,” which lasts between 2-30 seconds and causes a pilot to have performance lapses.

Newfoundland was his last contact with land until Ireland. After Newfoundland, he would be without contact with the world for the next 15 hours. The world waited with nervous anticipation for further word.

At the 14-hour mark he ran into his first serious problem with weather; ice was beginning to form on the plane. The wind was blowing him every which way. He turned the plane 360 degrees, looking for an opening. As if he didn’t have enough problems, his compass was malfunctioning, possibly because of a magnetic storm. Fortunately, just as things looked bleak, the great thunderstorms parted and the moon came out.

At the 17-hour mark, Lindbergh had gone 24 hours without sleep. He was numb to both hunger and cold. He lost control of his eyelids. Luckily, the Spirit of St. Louis was not a stable plane. It had to be physically flown. The required activity helped keep him awake.

Desperate to stay awake, he decided on a dangerous maneuver. Since he was flying in an open cockpit, he purposely flew close enough to the ocean for the spray to hit him in the face. Despite his best efforts, he began having hallucinations and hearing voices.

As if he didn’t have enough problems, he began to worry that he may not be on course because of the storms he had flown through. But after 28 hours of flying, he spotted Ireland. Amazingly, he was only 3 miles off course.

Now, he was only 6 hours from Paris. He arrived there without incident but had trouble finding Le Bourget Field outside Paris. He saw a long strand of lights that confused him, causing him to initially fly past the airfield. Upon closer examination, he discovered it was tens of thousands of headlights of cars stuck in traffic trying to get to the airport.

The exhausted Lindbergh landed at 10:24 p.m. Paris time, May 21, 1927, 33 1/2 hours after taking off from Roosevelt Field. An estimated 150,000 people were there to greet him.

Little did he realize that his problems were not over; he faced another danger. The mob of humanity knocked down a restraining fence and rushed past the overwhelmed police and soldiers and crashed over him. In immediate danger of being crushed, two French pilots came to his rescue. One pulled off Lindbergh’s helmet and placed it on a nearby reporter. The second threw his coat over him. In the confusion they managed to hustle the disguised Lindbergh into a car and drove him to a nearby-darkened hanger.

Eventually, he was driven to the American Embassy in Paris, where, after 63 hours of no sleep and in borrowed pajamas, he finally went to bed.

Most Famous Man On the Earth

The flight transformed a 25-year-old boy into the most famous man on earth. Upon his return to New York City, 4 1/2 million people welcomed him home with a gigantic ticker tape parade.

Lindbergh used his hero admiration to crusade for commercial aviation. He began by making a 22,350 mile air tour of the U.S. in three months landing in each of the 48 states. His tour demonstrated that modern airplanes could keep to regular schedules as successfully as railroad trains.

On his return President Calvin Coolidge presented him with the National Geographic Society’s Hubbard Gold Medal before 6,000 Washington dignitaries. Lindbergh in his acceptance speech proclaimed, “I hope and believe that in the near future we will flying over practically every corner of the world, and the airplane will unite more closely the nations than they are today.”

Orville Wright was on the platform behind the podium and was honored after the presentation of the medal during a historic pageant reviewing the outstanding achievements in aviation.

Lindbergh followed that up with an air tour of Central America. While visiting Mexico he met his future wife, Anne Morrow, who was the daughter of the U.S. ambassador to Mexico. After their marriage, he taught her to fly and she became the first woman glider pilot.

In 1933, Charles and Anne Lindbergh flew 30,000-miles in an epochal flight covering four continents and 31 countries. On their return flight, they honored aviation’s beginning 30 years before by Wilbur and Orville Wright by flying over Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

The year before they had endured the tragedy of their 20-month old son’s kidnapping and death.

Flying Combat Missions As A Civilian

During World War II at age 42, Lindbergh, as a civilian, flew 50 combat missions and shot down at least one Japanese fighter. Prior to Pear Harbor, Lindbergh, was actively opposed to America entering World War II as was his father in World War I. Lindbergh, who was formerly a commissioned officer in the Army Air Corps reserve, abruptly changed his pacifist views after the Japanese sneak attack on December 7, 1941. Two days after the attack, he offered his services to the Air Corps.

The Roosevelt administration upset at his prewar peace activities refused his offer. Henry L. Stimson, Secretary of War, told Lindbergh that he was “unwilling to place in command of our troops as a commissioned officer any man who had such a lack of faith in our cause, as he had shown in his speeches.”

Undeterred, he obtained a job as a technical representative with United Aircraft and was sent to the South Pacific to test the F4U Corsair and the P-38. Once there, his military friends secretly let him fly combat missions in addition to his civilian duties.

In 1953, President Eisenhower belatedly recognized Lindbergh’s military contributions. He restored his commission in the Air Force Reserve and promoted him to Brigadier General.

In the latter stage of Lindbergh’s life, he devoted his time to advocacy of environmental causes working with the World Wildlife Fund.

He died of cancer in August 26, 1974. At his request, he was buried in khaki work clothes in a plain wooden coffin in Maui, where the Lindbergh’s had a winter home.

He wrote, “After my death the molecules of my being will return to the earth and the sky. They came from the stars. I am of the stars.”

Lindbergh was multitalented person. He was an engineer, scientist, philosopher and Pulitzer Prize winning author among other things. Of all his achievements, he will mainly be remembered for his historic flight of the Spirit of St Louis to Paris in 1927.

More than any other single flight since the Wright Brothers, Lindbergh’s solo flight over the Atlantic Ocean from New York to Paris in 1927, revolutionized aviation. It hastened the transition of the airplane from an instrument of war and sport to that of commercial use. Lindbergh prophesized after his flight that “the year will surely come when passengers and mail will fly every day from America to Europe.”

In celebration of the 75th anniversary of the event, Erik Lindbergh honored his grandfather by recreating the famous solo flight.

I have a personal interest in this exciting event as I attended the Naval Officers Candidate School with Erik’s father, Jon, in 1954.

Charles Lindbergh Honors Orville Wright

Charles Lindbergh and Orville Wright enjoyed a close friendship and admired each other. When Lindbergh returned to America after his famous flight, he was committed to attend ceremonies in Washington, New York and St. Louis. After he fulfilled these commitments, his next act was to visit Orville in Dayton to pay his respects to the surviving inventor of the airplane.

He landed at Wright Field on the outskirts of Dayton on June 22, 1927, less than a month after the flight to Paris. A large crowd was awaiting them in downtown Dayton. Orville didn’t like crowds any more than Lindbergh did, so he suggested they take a back way to Orville’s home, Hawthorn Hill in Oakwood, skipping the crowds. Lindbergh readily agreed.

The plan went awry when the crowds showed up at Hawthorn Hill just as Orville and Lindbergh sat down for dinner. They shouted for Lindbergh to appear, in the process trampling Orville’s flowerbeds. Lindbergh saved the flowers by agreeing to appear briefly on a small balcony outside of Katharine’s room to wave to the people.

They met periodically thereafter, since they served on a number of committees together, which included the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics and the Guggenheim Fund for the Promotion of Aeronautics.

On one occasion, Lindbergh attempted to mediate the controversy between the Smithsonian Institution and Orville over the rightful refusal by Orville to display the 1903 Flyer in the Smithsonian Institution. Orville demanded that the Smithsonian recant their claim that the Langley Aerodrome was the first airplane that was capable of flight. Lindbergh failed in his mission, noting that Orville was as difficult to deal with as the Smithsonian, but that the greater fault was with the Smithsonian. Lindbergh wrote, “He has encountered the narrow mindedness of science and dishonesty of commerce.”

On other occasions, Lindbergh urged Orville to write an autobiography about the Wright Brothers. Lindbergh, himself, had written his own autobiography because he thought it was important to accurately record important historical events for posterity. After repeated attempts he gave up. Orville just wasn’t interested enough to tackle the task. He agreed to have others try, but he didn’t like what they had written.

Lindbergh demonstrated his profound admiration for the Wrights by his agreement to move his famous monoplane, the Spirit of St. Louis, to make room in the Smithsonian for the arrival of the 1903 Wright Flyer when the Flyer was finally returned to the U.S. from the London Science Museum in 1948. Orville and the Smithsonian had belatedly reached an agreement on the display of the Flyer after the Smithsonian admitted that the claims for the Aerodrome could not be substantiated.

The Spirit of St. Louis had been the centerpiece in the Hall of Arts and Industries Building since 1928. Lindbergh sold the airplane to the Smithsonian for $1 after the completion of his successful U.S. and Latin American air tours. Lindbergh considered it an honor to move it to the rear of the hall.

Lindbergh Flies Again

When Erik was a child he would ask his grandfather how it felt to fly across the ocean alone. His grandfather would respond with, “read the book.” Later when Erik was older, he made a carving of the Spirit of St. Louis. That set him thinking again about his grandfather’s flight and how it must have been to fly alone across the Atlantic Ocean. He decided that “I want to do that.” Now was the time to find out for himself how his grandfather felt and to honor him on the 75th anniversary of the event by restaging his grandfather’s famous flight.

Erik followed the same flight plan as his grandfather had done in 1927. He left Lindbergh Field, San Diego, on April 14, 2002 (a month earlier than his grandfather) in the New Spirit of St. Louis.

San Diego was the starting point because Ryan Airlines in San Diego had built the original Spirit of St. Louis.

The next day Eric flew to St. Louis where the original financial backers for his grandfather resided.

He next flew to Republic Airport in Farmington, New York, the departure point for Le Bourget Field in Paris. He chose Republic Airport as a stand-in for Roosevelt Field that his grandfather had used. The site of Roosevelt Field is now a shopping mall.

Erik did not fly a reproduction of his grandfather’s airplane, but it is similar. The Lancair 300 is a small, 310 hp single engine, state-of-the-art airplane made of composite materials that has been modified for the trip. The sleek red and white Lancair has been referred to as the Lexus of small airplanes. It is capable of cruising at a speed of 184 mph. That is 76 mph faster than his grandfather’s plane. The extra speed permits him to fly the 3,610 miles to Paris in 17-20 hours compared to his grandfather’s 33 1/2 hours, cutting the time of the flight almost in half.

Eric’s actual time was 17 hours and 7 minutes.

The original plane cost $10,580 ($100,000 in today’s dollars). The new “Spirit” cost $289,000.

Erik’s plane is smaller, with a wing span that is 10 foot smaller, but it is more reliable. He could also see better. The “Spirit” had no front windshield because a gas tank was placed in the space.

It was also more comfortable. His grandfather sat in a hard wicker chair. Eric had comfortable leather seat.

Erik, 36, had a better airplane, but he was faced with a challenge his grandfather didn’t have. Erik has rheumatoid arthritis disease that nearly crippled him by the age of 21 and required knee replacement surgery. Before the arthritis hit him, he was a champion gymnast and ski racer. Some two years ago he began taking a new drug that has resulted in significant improvement in his condition.

His Lancair has a side stick control and room inside the cockpit so he can stretch. Erik spent months training for the trip under the guidance of Stanley R. Mohler, Director of Aerospace Medicine at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio.

The family worried that the trip might cause his arthritis to produce dangerous fatigue. Even for a perfectly healthy person, the trip was a risky proposition. But Erik was determined, so the family supported him.

In addition to honoring his grandfather, he hopes his trip will raise awareness of the Arthritis Foundation as well as several other organizations.

One of these is the X Prize Foundation. The foundation has offered a prize of $10 million for the first private reusable spacecraft to carry passengers to an altitude of 62 miles and back. The X Prize has a similarity to the Orteig prize that motivated Erik’s grandfather. Erik is the Director of the X Prize Foundation.

Raymond Orteig, a French expatriate and New York hotel owner, believed that the future of aviation lay in the peaceful pursuit of transoceanic air travel. In 1919, he offered a prize of $25,000 to the first aviator to fly the Atlantic Ocean nonstop between New York and France. It is estimated that 117 people flew over the Atlantic Ocean before Lindbergh’s flight met Ortieg requirements.

The History Channel filmed Erik’s flight (www.HistoryChannel.com).

Erik was a speaker at the Wright Brothers’ Centennial Celebration at the Wright Brothers National Memorial and I had the privilege of speaking with him.

Erik revealed that a suspenseful sequence shown in the History Channel video in which all communications ceased for a short period while flying inside a weather front was not a concern to him. He was in communications with pilots of commercial flights.

At one point during these conversations there was a humorous incident. Erik told one of the pilots that there seemed to be a group of airplanes on the horizon. He was told it was the moon, not airplanes.

Eric said his takeoff wasn’t as suspenseful as his grandfathers who barely had made made it off the ground before running out of runway. But he did have to be careful when taxiing on the runway so that he didn’t turn too fast because the wings were full of fuel and and could sway back and to tip over the airplane.

The wings had been modified to hold an additional 200 gallons of gas. This was about 2/3rds of the amount carried by his grandfather. The total weight of Erik’s plane was 4,260 pounds compared to 5,250 pounds carried by his grandfather.

Erik had no problems on takeoff.

He also was concerned at the other end of the trip about whether his reflexes after the long trip would still be sensitive enough to make a good landing. It turned out that he “nailed it.”

He said, “I made the flight in half the time of my grandfather and ate twice as much.”

Here is a picture of Erik on the left and myself on the right.

A. Scott Crossfield, 84, left Prattville, Ala. around 9 a.m. Wednesday morning April 19, 2006 in his Cessna 210A headed for the airport in Manassas, Va., located hear his home in Herndon, Va. He had been talking to graduating cadets at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala. about his experiences.

He was reported missing two hours later after his plane dropped from radar while flying at 11,500 feet. The next day he was found dead in his crashed plane in a heavily forested gully of the mountainous region some 50 miles northwest of Atlanta. The plane’s wreckage fell in two areas about a mile apart. It appears the plane broke up in the storm. He was alone on the flight.

There was a severe storm with thunderstorms in the area. The turbulence in a severe thunderstorm can destroy an aircraft. A woman who lives near the crash site said she heard the plane having trouble in the storm. “He was trying to turn and he just went down.”

Crossfield’s fame comes from being the first pilot to fly twice the speed of sound in 1953 and when in 1959 he flew the X-15 rocket plane to the edge of space (72,00 feet) reaching a speed close to three times the speed of sound.

He still loved to fly and flew at least once a week. He had a private hangar for his Cessna at the Manassas Regional Airport where he maintained the plane himself.

I had the honor of meeting Crossfield when he played a key role for Ken Hyde of the Wright Experience in Warrenton, Va. He served as a key technical advisor and flight instructor in preparation for re-enacting the Wright brothers first flight on the 100th anniversary of the event at Kitty Hawk in 2003.

The Wright Experience researched and constructed a reproduction of the 1903 machine.

Crossfield was an ideal advisor because he had an advanced degree in Aeronautical Engineering as well as experience. He envied the Wright brothers because they could be involved in the entire engineering process from design to construction to flight.

Crossfield enjoyed working on the X-15 because, “I was very fortunate in being able to complete that whole circle.”

One of the most interesting functions he served with the Wright Experience was the training of the pilots to operate the 1903 Wright Flyer. All four were pilots but that may have been more of a handicap than being helpful. One had to start all over again to learn how to pilot the Flyer. They started with learning how to fly a glider first.

This task demonstrated Crossfield’s great versatility. He flew the X-15 at a speed of almost Mach 3 and was able to teach pilots to fly the Wright Flyer that flies at about Mach 0.05.

As time drew closer to the centennial, the four pilot candidates were cut from four to two. The winners were Kevin Kochersberger and Terry Queijo.

I met Crossfield and the pilots while they were practicing flying the reproduction flyer that would fly on December 17 at the National Wright Brothers Memorial. They were at the famous site to continue their practicing.

Kochersberger made the first successful flight with the reproduction Flyer on Nov. 20th.

I was there on Nov, 25th. Unfortunately, that was the day that Terry Queijo crashed the Flyer while trying to take off.

I observed that the front end rose too fast and too steep. It stalled and just as suddenly slammed into the soft sand. The whole sequence only took a second or two. Queijo was clearly shaken and had a mouth full of sand but thankfully otherwise emerged unhurt except for her pride.

Here is where I observed the character of Crossfield up close. He was not berating her for damaging the Flyer. Rather, he was talking to her like her grandfather might have talked to her. He was very calm and reassuring; a true gentleman. He was a grandfather with seven grandchildren.

I shot the picture at left moments after the crash. Crossfield is the one with the pointed hood facing the camera. Queijo is facing him on his immediate right (your left).

The flyer, after repairs, was back in the air Wednesday Dec. 4th. This 3rd flight, piloted by Kochersberger, lasted 12 seconds and went 115 feet, only 5 feet short of Orville’s famous first flight.

One of the other things I did was to get Crossfield’s autograph. It is something that I keep in a cherished place.

The most interesting function he served was the training of the pilots to operate the 1903 Wright Flyer. All four were pilots but that may have been more of a handicap than being helpful. One had to start all over again to learn how to pilot the Flyer. They started with learning how to fly a glider first.

As time drew closer to the centennial, the four pilot candidates were cut from four to two. The winners were Kevin Kochersberger and Terry Queijo.

I met Crossfield and the pilots while they were practicing flying the reproduction flyer that would fly on December 17 at the National Wright Brothers Memorial. They were at the famous site to continue their practicing.

Kochersberger made the first successful flight with the reproduction Flyer on Nov. 20th.

I was there on Nov, 25th. Unfortunately, that was the day that Terry Queijo crashed the Flyer while trying to take off.

I observed that the front end rose too fast and too steep. It stalled and just as suddenly slammed into the soft sand. The whole sequence only took a second or two. Queijo was clearly shaken and had a mouth full of sand but thankfully otherwise emerged unhurt except for her pride.

Here is where I observed the character of Crossfield up close. He was not berating her for damaging the Flyer. Rather, he was talking to her like her grandfather might have talked to her. He was very calm and reassuring; a true gentleman. He was a grandfather with seven grandchildren.

I shot the picture at left moments after the crash. Crossfield is the one with the pointed hood facing the camera. Queijo is facing him on his immediate right (your left).

The flyer, after repairs, was back in the air Wednesday Dec. 4th. This 3rd flight, piloted by Kochersberger, lasted 12 seconds and went 115 feet, only 5 feet short of Orville’s famous first flight.

One of the other things I did was to get Crossfield’s autograph. It is something that I keep in a cherished place.

Update: The National Transportation Board has concluded that Crossfield and an air-controller were blamed for Crossfield’s crash during a severe thunderstorm. Crossfield knew he was flying into rough weather but did not ask for a weather update, and the air-controller did not provide one.

Steve Fossett is the modern version of the original daredevil pilots such as Arch Hoxsey and Ralph Johnstone of the Wright Brothers exhibition team that was formed in 1910. They take death-defying risks to become the pilot that flies the highest, fastest and farthest.

Hoxsey and Johnstone played the odds of death and lost. Fossett has taken great risks and so far has beaten the odds. He is one of the Millennial Pioneers who create a cutting edge for aviation and aerospace in the new millennial century. This is the story of his latest great adventure.

His objective was to establish a new world record for the longest nonstop, unrefueled flight. Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager piloting the Scaled Composites Voyager aircraft in 1986 held the current record.

Stretching the limits is nothing new for the 61-year old millionaire native of Tennessee. He has swum the English Channel, driven in the 24 Hours Le Mans auto race and set more than 20 speed sailing world records. He also has set flying records for the fastest trips across the Atlantic and around the globe. In 2002 he became the first person to circle the world alone in a balloon.

The planned itinerary for his latest adventure of flight was to take off from the Kennedy Space Center, with the GlobalFlyer, a lightweight experimental airplane, and circle the globe. The GlobalFlyer is owned by Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic and was built by Burt Rutan’s Scaled Composites.

Continuing the journey, It will cross the Atlantic Ocean a second time and land in Kent, England. If successful, it would be the first time that a major aviation distance record ended in England since Louis Bleriot flew the English Channel in 1909.

The flight almost didn’t get off the ground on Feb. 8, 2006. The airplane almost ran out of runway. The Kennedy runway is 15,000 -ft long and he had to use almost all of it with his 9-ton JP-4 fuel load.

Seconds from disaster, Fossett said that he “had to really pull on the stick with all his might to get it off the ground.” It would have meant instant death with his large fuel load if he had run out of runway and crashed into a large ditch at the end of the runway.

To make matters worse, he hit two birds a few seconds after rotation. The birds were later found to be 30-oz black breasted plovers with 12-inch wingspans. Fortunately, they did no damage to the GlobalFlyer.

But another problem emerged. The ventilation system malfunctioned. The temperature rapidly rose in the claustrophobic refrigerator size cockpit. The temperature rose to 130F and the instruments ceased to work in the hot environment. He was able to reduce the temperature. If he had not, he would have had to return to Kennedy or ditch in the ocean.

If all these problems weren’t enough, several hours into the trip it was discovered that during the climb on takeoff some 750 pounds of precious fuel had vented out of the aircraft. This is equivalent of about 1,000 miles of range.

Favorable winds would now be most important to succeed in breaking the distance record. During the first part of the flight Foster was able was able to find favorable easterly jetstreams. When he arrived over India he ran into unexpected turbulence that that so severe that he put on his parachute and oxygen mask in case the airplane broke apart.

Foster originally wanted to start his journey several days earlier for better weather, but China denied him overflight rights until after the Chinese New Year.

Fortunately, he was able to fly on and reach Florida completing one swing around the world and continue on his way to England. At this point his worry was did he had enough fuel to get there?

His worry would soon change when another more serious problem occurred. The generator failure light illuminated while flying over the border between Wales and England. With no generator power, the battery that powers the systems of the airplane lost voltage and would have a life of only 25 minutes.

Fossett declared an emergency and requested directions to the nearest airfield. He chose Bournemouth International Airport some 100 miles closer than Kent, his original destination.

His rapid descent had an unexpected side effect of overwhelming the defrost system and fogged over the canopy so that constant wiping was required just to see. Luckily he had landed at Bournemouth before so he had some familiarity with the airport. He landed successfully but blew two tires in the process.

He had flown 26,389 miles in about 76 hours. It was a little short of his goal but it beat the existing record of 24,987 miles for a nonstop flight set in 1986.

He had little sleep during the flight but did take a few “power naps” of less than 10 minutes each. For food, he consumed milkshakes.

If the generator failure had occurred a couple hours earlier, the chances are he would have had to bail out or ditch into the ocean.

He success took a superhuman effort with a lot of luck thrown in. Fossett admitted, “I was really lucky to make it here today, there was a lot going on.”

The Global Flyer will eventually be displayed in the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udar-Hazy Center.

References: New York Times, Feb. 12, 2006; Washington Post, March 17, 2006; Aviation Week and Space Technology, Feb. 13 and Feb. 20, 2006.