Wright Brothers

What we’re watching: The Mechanician

(Courtesy State University Archives)

The Wright Brothers didn’t do it alone.

Their sister, Katharine Wright, was an essential part of the team. She ran the brothers’ bicycle shop when they were off doing gliding tests in Kitty Hawk. And she was essential when it came to taking care of the Wright Brothers’ business and social matters.

And, without Charles E. Taylor, the Wright Brothers’ planes would have never gotten off the ground.

Taylor, a self-taught machinist, worked as a repair person in the bicycle shop. And it was Taylor who Orville and Wilbur turned to when they needed a wind tunnel to help them with improvements for the 1902 glider.

It was also Taylor who designed and built the first successful airplane engine for the Wright Brother’s first pioneering powered flight in 1903.  And it was Taylor who improved and fixed the engines for many years after.

Thanks to this story in the Metropolitan Airport News, we learned all about Charles E. Taylor. And about a short film that highlights his mostly forgotten role in aviation history and in the Wright Brothers’ story.

See the film, by Joshua Lang and Natalie Wong, below. Be sure to watch for the rare footage of Taylor describing how he created parts from scratch.

(Charlie Taylor at the Wright Company factory in 1911. Courtesy Wright State University Archives)

Aviation treasures returning to National Air & Space Museum

The Smithsonian’s National Air & Space Museum has been closed for a while to reboot with two dozen new exhibits. At least 8 of the galleries are set to open this fall.

One of those returning soon is The Wright Brothers & The Invention of the Aerial Age, an update of the popular exhibition of the same name that has housed the 1903 Wright Flyer since 2003.

As a preview, the museum shared pictures of some of the artifacts we’ll see when the exhibit reopens and pointed us to aviation-themed treasures in the vaults.

12 seconds. That is how long Orville Wright’s first powered flight in the 1903 Wright Flyer lasted. The Wright Brothers used this stopwatch to time the December 1903 flight. The watch will be on display in the reimagined Wright Brothers exhibition.


Once the Wright Brothers showed how ‘easy’ it was to fly, it didn’t take long for the public to become fascinated with airplanes and airplane-themed things. And for flight themes to appear on jewelry, in games, and in art.

Here are a few great objects from the National Air & Space Museum’s collection that we hope we’ll see when the galleries reopen. See you there!

(All images courtesy of the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum)

Board Game, Lindbergh, King Collection (A20040289048).
Pillbox with an airplane on the lid
Gold-colored small jewelry charm in the shape of an early monoplane with a visible fuselage frame and propeller that spins.

Celebrating National Aviation Day

Sculpture at the Wright Brothers National Monument _courtesy National Park Service

Today (August 19) is National Aviation Day, which celebrates the development of aviation and marks Orville Wright’s birthday.

Airports and aviation fans around the country will be noting the day in various ways.

Courtesy CVG

At Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG), they’ll be celebrating with two events.

*From 11:30 a.m to 1:30 p.m. CVG is inviting community members to stop by the Airport Viewing Area to watch planes take off and land and enjoy a family-friendy outing with the Kona Ice truc, the CVG fire truck, games and other activities.

*From 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. CVG and Graeter’s Ice Cream will be greeting arriving passengers with samples of ice cream. There will also be a performance from ArtsWave Presents and aviation-themed giveaways in the terminal.

Mural honoring Wright Brothers – at Tampa International Airport

On National Aviation Day, one of my traditions is to remember Katharine Wright, Orville and Wilbur’s sister, who was often referred to as “The Third Wright Brother.”

Don’t know about her? That’s because Orville tried to have Katharine’s role in the brothers’ accomplishment erased from history.

Here’s a short feature story I produced about Katherine Wright back in 2003 for National Public Radio as part of my Hidden Treasures Radio Project series.

National Aviation Day and the 3rd Wright Brother

At Seattle's Museum of Flight

In 1939 President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed August 19  – Orville Wright’s birthday – to be National Aviation Day.

It’s a great excuse (as if you really need one) to celebrate aviation, aviation history, aviators through the ages and how fun it is to fly.

But ever since I learned the story of Orville and Wilbur Wright’s sister, Katherine, I make sure to pay homage to her on this day.

Few people even know the Wright Brothers had a sister. But without Katherine who, for example, kept the bicycle shop running while her brothers were out doing their thing in the Kitty Hawk dunes, National Aviation Day may have had a very different back story.

Here’s a link to a radio piece titled Katherine Wright: The Forgotten Wright Brother,  that I put together for National Public Radio (way back in 2003!) on Katherine Wright. When the Wright Brothers were all the rage, Katherine was known as the 3rd Wright Brother and most certainly should be remembered on National Aviation Day.

Take a listen and let me know what you think.


Greetings from Missouri’s Springfield-Branson National Airport

I’m visiting Springfield, Missouri this week to join the festivities for the opening of the Johnny Morris’ Wonders of Wildlife National Museum & Aquarium and had a while to explore the public areas of the Springfield-Branson National Airport on arrival while waiting for a ride into town.

In the soaring lobby/baggage claim area, there’s a replica of the Wright Brothers 1903 Flyer and  a 3/4 scale  Curtis Jenny, the first mass produced American aircraft. After World War I, stunt pilots used this type of plane in airshows and signage at the airport tells us  that in May 1918 the US Postal Service began using Jennys for the first scheduled U.S. Air Mail Service.

EZ-1, the first fire rescue vehicle used by the Springfield Municipal Airport, is also on display.

SGF airport has an art gallery with mulitple display areas in the pre and post-security areas.  The current exhibit  – Come Fly with Me – is up through mid-November.

artwork by Christine Riutzel

And in the newstand I found a great cow-tipping t-shirt.  Is that really a thing?