The ability to fly has probably intrigued man since hominids first learned to stand erect and had brains capable of looking at the world around them with more than just survival on their minds. The fact that human flight is the stuff of myth and legend only serves to develop this point.
There’s something transcendental about flying. The fact that you’re doing something that exceeds your personal powers only adds to the allure and wonder. Seeing the surface of the world stretch out beneath you offers a new perspective that can only be obtained while in flight. Observing the curvature of the earth and the darkness of space while aloft is truly a moment that stays with you forever.
The physics of flight are quite well understood, but the impact on the person flying far exceeds the fact that thrust and lift have overcome weight and drag. The structure of the airfoil has enabled mankind to alter the flow of air around the wing to leave the bounds of earth, if only for the duration of the flight.
Aspect ratios and mean camber lines can be computed with precision, but the exactitude of those calculations does not begin to convey the captivating, pure, simple joy of flight!
I fly as often as I can and it never gets old.
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First Heavier-than-Air Powered Flight
At 10:35 AM local time, Orville Wright (August 19, 1871 – January 30, 1948), with his brother Wilbur (April 16, 1867 – May 30, 1912) and five eyewitnesses watching, struggled into the air on a 12-second flight into a gusting 27+/- MPH wind at Kill Devil Hills, near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in the first documented heavier-than-air machine on a sustained, controlled, powered flight, on December 17, 1903. The flight in the airplane called the Flyer, covered 120 feet at an average speed of 6.8 MPH roughly 10 feet above the ground. The same day, they made three other flights of 175 feet (Wilbur), 200 feet (Orville), and 852 feet (Wilbur). At noon, the fourth, and final, flight of the day began and far exceeded their previous efforts when Wilbur remained aloft for 59 seconds.
Charlie Taylor (May 24, 1868 – January 30, 1956), the shop mechanic in the Wright’s bicycle shop, was the person who built the 180-pound, chain-drive engine that produced 12 HP and lifted the 605-pound airplane into the air, is often overlooked for his contribution to powered flight.
Since the Wrights stepped into history, mankind has raced to embrace and to enhance the technology of flight at an amazing rate. In very short order, piston engines gave way to jet engines as a means to sustain powered flight through the Earth’s atmosphere. Helicopters and other types of flying machines showed the extent to which mankind was fascinated with his new-found ability to fly.
Landing on the Moon
At 9:32 AM, EDT, on July 16, 1969, a Saturn V SA-504 rocket, standing on a pillar of flame and generating 7.5 million pounds of thrust, slowly climbed away from launchpad 39-A at Cape Canaveral, Florida, part of the Kennedy Space Flight Center. After 1.5 orbits around the earth, at 12:16:16 PM, EDT, the S-IV-B engine ignited for a trans-lunar injection burn of 5 minutes and 48 seconds. At 12:49:22 PM, the Command and Service Module (CSM), nicknamed Columbia, separated from the S-IV-B stage, which contained the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM), turned around and docked with the LEM at 12:56:03 PM, EDT. At 2:01:33 PM, EDT, the S-IV-B rocket was put into a helio-centric orbit. Apollo 11′s flight was so close to nominal, that only a 3-second mid-course correction burn occurred on July 17, 1969.
The LEM entered lunar orbit at 1:21:50 PM, EDT, on July 20, 1969, after a 357.5-second burn of the main engine while the spacecraft was behind the moon. A subsequent 17-second burn circularized the LEM’s orbit around the moon. At 2:11:53 PM, EDT, on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin separated the LEM from the CSM in preparation for landing on the moon. After a visual inspection of the LEM by CSM pilot Michael Collins (October 31, 1930 – ), the LEM descent engine fired for 30 seconds at 3:08 PM, EDT. The burn put the LEM in a descent orbit with the closest approach point of 14.5 kilometers, roughly 9 miles. At 4:05 PM, EDT, the LEM descent engine fired for 756.3 seconds and descent to the lunar surface began.
At 4:17:40 PM. EDT, on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong (August 5, 1920 – August 25, 2012) and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin (January 20, 1930 – ) safely landed the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM), nicknamed Eagle, on the surface of the moon near the Sea of Tranquility. Neil Armstrong’s first radioed words from the lunar surface were, ”Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”
At 10:56:15 PM, EDT, on July 20, 1969, just under 6.5 hours after landing, Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon. He said, “That’s one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind” as he stepped onto the surface of the Earth’s closest celestial companion. Nearly everyone today, who was alive at that time, remembers the impact that simple statement had on him, the nation, and the world. Aldrin joined Armstrong on the lunar surface 19 minutes later.
The astronauts returned to the LEM at 1:11:13 AM, EDT. At 1:54:01 PM, EDT, on July 21, 1969, after about 21 hours and 36 minutes on the moon, the LEM lifted off from the lunar surface. At 5:34:00 PM, EDT, the LEM docked with the CSM. At 8:01:01 PM EDT, on July 21, 1969, the LEM was jettisoned into lunar orbit. At 1:54:42 AM, EDT, on July 22, 1969, a 2.5-minute trans-earth injection burn began using the CSM engine. The Command Module separated from the Service Module at 12:21:13 PM, EDT on July 24. Apollo 11 splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at 12:50:35 PM, EDT on July 24, 1969. The astronauts returned to earth at 13°19′N 169°9′W, about 400 miles SSW of Wake Island. They landed approximately 15 miles from the USS Hornet recovery ship. The total mission time was 195 hours, 18 minutes, 35 seconds.
In a short 66 years, less than the average length of a single lifetime in the United States, humankind mastered flight through the Earth’s atmosphere and took its initial tentative strides, however small, into space. Man’s first fledgling steps onto Earth’s closest celestial companion will either continue our quest to explore, discover, and learn more about the universe and ourselves or mark the end of our short-lived journey into space and curtail the tremendous potential to learn what is means to be human and discover our place in the universe.
What the future holds for manned flight is limited only by our determination, curiosity, ingenuity, and imagination.