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Two important dates in aviation history

Short Flights


First flight by Orville Wright on Dec. 17, 1903.

Aviation enthusiasts everywhere know there are two very important dates to remember in the month of December. At 10:35 a.m., on Dec. 17, 1903, Orville Wright made history by flying a powered machine into full flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. This year marks the 114th anniversary of that famous flight.

The first experience Orville and Wilbur Wright had with a flying machine was an object given to them by their father. It was made of paper, bamboo sticks and cork. He turned a stick that twisted a rubber band, fastened it and tossed the object into the air. Both boys were fascinated that it didn't fall, instead it fluttered and flew several feet; their father called it a helicopter.

Later in their lives, during the 1890s, sometimes known as the decade of the bicycle, the Wright brothers developed a successful business of bicycle repair. They happened onto an article in a magazine about Otto Lilienthal and his studies of the parabolic curve of a bird's wing and flight. They were reminded of the helicopter their father had given them sixteen years before. The spark of flying was re-ignited and they experimented with kites and gliders for many years, before their historic manned powered flight in 1903.

The other important aviation dates in this month are: Dec. 14-23, 1986, when Voyager made the extraordinary first-ever non-stop, unrefueled flight, around the world with pilots Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager (no relation to Chuck Yeager). This year we celebrated the 31st anniversary at Plane Crazy Saturday on Dec. 16, at Mojave Air & Spaceport.

Numerous test flights, plus a flight to Oshkosh, Wisconsin to attend the annual Experimental Aircraft Association's fly-in led Dick and Jeana to the edge of entry into aviation history forever.

Burt Rutan, famous aircraft designer and former CEO of Scaled Composites created Voyager for maximum fuel efficiency. Bruce Evans, Crew Chief and a host of volunteers built this graceful design at Mojave Airport in Hangar #77!

The circumnavigation flight was 26,366 statute miles, which more than doubled the previous record set by a B-52 Bomber in 1962. This fragile aircraft with a wingspan of 110-feet had an empty weight of only 939-pounds. The gross weight on take-off from Edwards AFB, Dec. 14, 1986, was 9,694.5-pounds.

The milestone flight took nine-days, three-minutes and 44-seconds and the absolute world distance records set during that flight remain unchallenged today.

I have had the pleasure of hearing the poignant Voyager story told by Dick Rutan on many occasions and each time I hear something new. Dick likes to remind people, "If you can dream it, you can do it!"

Voyager over Edwards Dry Lake on Dec. 23, 1986.

The cramped cockpit environment was most uncomfortable and sleep deprivation was the enemy. Imagine being locked in a phone booth for nine days while flying at speeds of only 80-knots navigating around thunder storms, near hostile countries threatening to shoot you down, worrying about whether or not you have enough fuel for the trip, running on one engine to conserve fuel and on the last leg of the flight suffering rear engine failure due to an air pocket in a fuel line. As the crew lost 5,000 feet of altitude, all the while attempting to start the front engine, they could see the ocean coming up to meet them, but then the front engine roared to life, and saved these brave intrepid souls!

My husband, Al and I were there, with thousands of other people to witness the landing of Voyager on Dec. 23, 1986. The Voyager story is one of great emotion, courage, vision and adventure and is often referred to as "aviation's last first."

Voyager, a piece of Mojave, proudly hangs in the South Lobby of the National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C.

Wishing everyone Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas and a Happy 2018!

See you on our next flight!


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