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December 17, 1903

James Fallows

On a brighter note, I wanted to use this anniversary as an occasion to celebrate one of the most remarkable photographs ever taken. It is this one, made 109 years ago today. It shows Orville Wright aboard his plane, and his brother Wilbur running alongside, at the instant their Wright Flyer lifted off above the sand at Kill Devil Hills in North Carolina on the first successful flight of a self-powered heavier-than-air craft.

Nine years ago, on the 100th anniversary of the Wright Flyer's first successful flight, I was down amid the throngs at Kill Devil Hills and Kitty Hawk watching an attempted re-enactment. The replica Flyer was carefully true to the original Wright model. But the winds weren't right, or the sand was too wet, or something else was off, because a century later the plane didn't get off the ground. More credit to the Wrights for what they did -- and almost as much to to John T. Daniels for a genuinely astonishing and historic photo.

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