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A CENTURY OF TRAVELING WRIGHT

As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first airplane
flight, let's take a few moments to appreciate what Orville
and Wilbur Wright achieved and marvel at how far aviation
has come. The first flight lasted 12 seconds and carried
Orville 120 feet. These days, it takes passengers just three
hours to travel all the way through airport security.

Flying is a way of life for millions, many of whom have no
idea how a plane weighing more than a house can rise
thousands of feet and cross vast oceans, yet such people
will eagerly board the plane without having taken a single
swimming lesson. Most don't even bother to buy life
insurance. They have great faith in man's ability to fly --
and just as much faith, for that matter, in woman's ability
to fly.

But before that historic day of Dec. 17, 1903, flying
seemed such a crazy notion. People would sooner believe that
fish could play tennis. The Wright brothers faced a slew of
skeptics.

Neighbor: "Did you hear the news? Wilbur and Orville are
building a flying machine."

Friend: "Really? I've got some extra money. Do you think
they'd let me invest?"

Neighbor: "Invest in the flying machine?"

Friend: "No, in whatever those boys are smoking."

Thankfully, the Wright brothers didn't give up and were soon
flying their amazing machine for stunned spectators around
the globe.

Spectator: "I'm glad I brought my binoculars. There's no
side walls up there, you know!"

Friend: "I'm glad I brought my umbrella. There's no toilet
up there, you know!"

Over the next century, aviation progressed so much, even the
Wright brothers would be surprised. A few of the milestones:

1911: The British government conducts the first test flight
of "airmail" in Allahabad, India. Frenchman Henri Pequet
carries 6,500 cards and letters in his Sommer biplane, but
has trouble delivering them to individual households. The
Postmaster General rejects Pequet's suggestion to raise
mailboxes to a height of 1,000 feet.

1915: Eddie Stinson opens the first flying school in San
Antonio, Texas. After giving lessons to his first batch of
students, Stinson realizes the need to invent a parachute.

1927: Charles Lindbergh becomes the world's most famous
pilot when he flies solo across the Atlantic in 33 hours 39
minutes. Along the way, Lindbergh develops the first
autopilot device, using his shoe and a rubber band.

1929: In a big step for commercial aviation, Imperial
Airways carries eight passengers from Britain to India. A
passenger named Edith Smith shares her homemade fruitcake
with the other travelers, ushering in the era of bad airline
food.

1939: "No smoking" signs are installed in planes after a
male passenger, traveling from New York to Los Angeles,
spends the entire flight smoking. "Mayday, Mayday!" the
pilot frantically radios the tower. "I can't see a thing.
It's cloudier inside the plane than outside."

1977: The aviation industry enjoys its proudest moment on
television when a character named Tattoo utters those
immortal words: "Da plane! Da plane!"

1999: Responding to complaints that airline seats are too
narrow for the "bigger" passengers of today, United Airlines
decides to change its policy of permitting only luggage in
the cargo bay. Other airlines widen their seats from 10 to
11 inches, allowing the cast of "Friends" to share a seat.

                                                        

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