The Wright Flyer

When I came to being, it was dark. I could not see. I could not speak. But I could move my wings. Aye. I had wings even then. I was cold, but did not know it. I know much more now. I know what I am. I know my name. I know my makers.

Orville cracked his knuckles and murmured the words of enchantment softly. It was late, but he was ready to try again. He would succeed this time, he was sure. The other times had been too early in the process, but now, with a head, a body, and wings – all the requisite parts – he was sure it would work this time. It was complete but for working eyes. Wilbur had only just finished wiring the last photocell in the wing in the early evening, and then, he had taken over, spending the rest of the evening going over the construct, learning every single part of it. Belief was a large part of spell making, especially in animation magic. He ran his hands over the cold metal and concentrating, he chanted the now familiar spell, one he had painstakingly researched and crafted specially for a metal flying construct. He could feel the magic flow from his hands to the construct. When he was done, he removed his hands and watched intently. The metal dragon glowed softly from the magic, and a spark crackled in between its jaws. It moved. Raising its head slightly, it spread its wings.

“Wilbur! Wilbur! I’ve done it! He moved his wings!”

The younger brother dashed to the door and cried out into the house to his older sibling.

“Bring a lamp! He will need more light!”

Wilbur grabbed an oil lamp and scrambled down the stairs to the garage, excited by his brother’s cries. “You have! Really?” He passed the neatly stacked bicycle parts that constituted the mainstay of their business and into the back of the garage where they had been working on their special project for months. They counted themselves lucky to have on their staff, Charlie, an apprentice wizard who was working on his master status. Charlie had helped them design the self-feeding, perpetual engine for their project. It was genius in itself, using water; all it required was light to power it and it constantly renewed the spell to split water into Hydrogen and Oxygen. Hydrogen for lift as well as for dragon flame effect, oxygen to feed the flame.

He arrived in the small back room that they kept locked from prying eyes. The lamp he held lit up the room, which had only been dimly lit by an overhead mage light. He looked past his brother’s shoulder and gasped.

“Orville! You have done it!”

Orville turned around and grabbed his brother in a happy bear hug, dancing around in his excitement. “Oh… Wilbur! Wilbur! We’ve done it!” He wiped tears of joy from his face.

“Is the engine functioning properly?” Wilbur’s voice trembled with excitement.

“Yes! It functions perfectly!”

I could hear. I could hear and understand, although I had no eyes to see. I felt a little better now and tilted my wings towards the source of light and warmth.

“Oh, Orville! Look! I will bring more lamps! He needs light! Not just the sorcerous mage lights, he needs real fire!” Wilbur dashed back to the house while Orville remained to croon lovingly at their creation.

I burped. Maybe it was a hiccup. But I clucked my tongue and breathed fire. I liked that. So I did it again.

Orville cackled gleefully and rubbed his hands. “I knew it could be done! If golems can be raised from mud and constructs of leaf and twigs given life, why not dragons of more technologically advanced metal and engines?” He screwed up his face and sneered in a high, whiney, nasal voice, “Iron and engines are against the laws of natural magic. Pah!” He danced another little jig of glee. “Tinkerer am I? Of no account am I?” He laughed loud and long in joy and triumph before hurrying out of the room to help his brother gather lamps and candles.

From Orville’s diary:
I remember as a child, when my father brought home a delicate toy to amuse us. He had called to us and as Wilbur and I hurried down the stairs, he threw the object up in the air. We expected it to fall, but instead, it soared up to the ceiling, fluttered around in a large circle then descended gently to the floor. It was a little toy, with wings of bamboo and paper, known to wizards as a "hélicoptère" or flyer, but which we, with sublime disregard for science, at once dubbed it a "bat." We played with it until the animation spell was exhausted and it fell apart in our rough boyish hands, but its memory was abiding.

Our first experimentations with flying animations were with more of these flyers for ourselves. The small ones were relatively easy to animate, but the larger ones we made often came crashing down, fluttering their wings uselessly on the ground. We did not know then, that a flying construct having only twice the linear dimensions of another would require eight times the power to animate it.

Constructs of wood and paper were not durable, and never lasted long. It was a fascinating hobby to Wilbur and I, but as we became older, we had to give up this captivating sport as unbecoming to boys of our ages.

The wizards continued to view constructs as short-lived, temporary things. Animations of wood and natural things, golems of mud and clay, but Wilbur and I often wondered why they could not be constructed of iron. We had engines, did we not? And steam locomotives, but they had to be controlled by man. Why not a metal construct? Animated by spells? Able to perform tasks as instructed by man, but infinitely more durable than twigs and mud.

We studied with great interest Canute's "Progress in Flying Animations," Longlie's "Experiments in Flying Constructs," the "Animation Annuals" of 1895, 1896, and 1897, and several pamphlets published by the Smythesonian Wizards Institute, especially articles by Lilianthaller and extracts from Mouizard's "Empire of Animated Servants." The larger works gave us a good understanding of the nature of the problem of constructs, and the difficulties in past attempts to solve it, while Lilianthaller, the great missionary of the cause for flyers, infected us with his own unquenchable enthusiasm, and transformed idle curiosity into the active zeal of workers.

We were laughed at when we presented our ideas to the Smythesonian Wizards Institute, but their sneers only strengthened our resolves. After all, iron came from the earth. There was nothing unnatural about it. It was merely refined by man, and formed into shapes. Much like wood from a tree was cut, dried and planed into boards. It was a cold winter’s night in Dayton when we proved those wizards wrong. When “baby” Wright first came into being. The weak sunlight of winter, prevented us from presenting Wright to the world at large. It did not provide enough power. Given the amount of power and strength of spell required to animate a flying construct, we had supplemented the spell with the power generated when water was split into Hydrogen and Oxygen. We had researched this delicate issue carefully and with the help of Charlie, had co-joined relatively weak spells to work together in an elegant solution. Wright could levitate easily given the hydrogen stored in his belly to aid the levitation spell, but did not have the power to maneuver his great wings. In retrospect, I was glad of that. We had to modify and repair him many times until we attained balance and he stopped crashing to the ground each time he tried to turn, or do more than merely hover in the air for longer than a few seconds.

“He will need eyes.”
“What will you make them of?”
“Optic crystals”
“And where do you think you will get them from?”
“Charlie has a source. Wizards Institute.”
“Of course.”

I woke slowly. I felt the warmth of light on my back and spread my wings to capture it. I blinked. I could see. I looked around and huffed. Clucking my tongue to produce a spark. A small flame shot out of my mouth. I nodded in satisfaction.

“Easy there.”

I blinked and swiveled my head.

“Good boy.”

I turned again toward the second voice. Ahh.. here they were, and as I imagined them to be. My makers. I tilted my wings to best capture the light. Warmth. Life giving light. I could feel my heart racing, and my third and fourth belly filling. Once they were full, I crouched and sprang. I hovered, fluttering the end pinions of my wings, trying to balance myself. I flapped my wings and moved forward, staying in the air for a few moments then fell. Upset, I huffed again. Breathing small flames. I thrashed, flapping my wings harder. Why was I on the ground instead of being in the air?

Orville swore. Wright was breaking his metal pinions and expensive photocells. He grabbed the dragon and crooned softly, calmingly. After the first shock of seeing their creation crash gracelessly onto the concrete, Wilbur quickly cast a spell of immobilization.

“Great, Will. You got me too.”

“Heh. Sorry. Let me take baby Wright then free you.”

Wilbur removed the dragon from his brother’s hands. Its eyes were rolling wildly. Wilbur covered the construct with burlap sacks, keeping it in the dark until its power spent.

“Hush,” he crooned, “Sleep now… sleep. You will be stronger when you awake. Better. Faster…”

“Balanced.” Orville added to Wilbur’s list. The spell had worn off before Wilbur returned to his brother, and Orville cast a long shadow in the garage as he entered. Wilbur stood and nodded at his brother in agreement.

“Aye. There’s the key. Balance.”
“And the difficulty”

From Orville’s diary:
The person who merely watches the flight of a bird gathers the impression that the bird has nothing to think of but the flapping of its wings. As a matter of fact this is a very small part of its mental labor. To even mention all the things the bird must constantly keep in mind in order to fly securely through the air would take a considerable part of the evening. The bird has learned this art of equilibrium, and learned it so thoroughly that its skill is not apparent to our sight. We only learn to appreciate it when we try to imitate it. Baby Wright knew he had the art of equilibrium. However, it was up to us to provide him a balanced body with which to use. He would learn to adjust his balance, but if we could not provide him a body that was close to being balanced, he could not fly.

That we were able to animate a construct of metal was a triumph. But to us, it was only half the battle. We wanted to have our cake and eat it as well. We WOULD have a flying construct made out of metal.

“Maybe he should learn to glide before he learns to fly.”
“True… true… gliding would also let us experiment with the balance.”

Both brothers were working on the repairs to their construct. Fired by their success in animating him, the labor went quickly.

“Have you told Charlie?” Wilbur asked.
“He got you the optic crystals anyway?”
“Aye. That he did. A good man is Charlie.”

Wilbur nodded, concentrating on straightening metal pinions with a small hammer and block.

“We need to do this somewhere that has good winds and soft sands for the landing. I’ve called the U.S. Weather Bureau. There’s a good beach in North Carolina. Remote. Name of Kitty Hawk.”

Orville paused in his labors and looked up at his brother. “You were always the studious one. You’ve already done your homework.” His eyes took on a far away look. “Kitty Hawk.” He rolled the name over his tongue again then smiled. “Kitty Hawk…that sounds apropos.”

I spread my wings and held them out and tight as Orville had instructed me. My belly was already full and I huffed into the wind. I was ready. Orville hefted me into the wind. The wind lifted me and I flew. I wanted to crow with joy, had I voice, I would have. I wheeled. Turned, and then before I knew it, I was tumbling in the wind, jarring to a halt, half buried in the sand. I flapped my wings urgently. I wanted to fly. Why was I held down by sand? I wasn’t done yet. I was supposed to hold tight and glide, then come down gently.

“Wright! Wright! Be still! Be still! Immobilize him, Wilbur!”

Both brothers were running as fast as they could. Wilbur panted out the words of the spell, immobilizing the construct before it could break more wing parts and photo-cells. They stared down at their creation. His snout and a wing was buried in the sand, the other was bent badly. They looked at each other, and then covered it with burlap.

“Well, there’s that.” Wilbur murmured.

“We need a wind tunnel.” Orville replied

Wilbur nodded. “Can’t keep on traveling down here to throw little baby Wright up in the air for one flight.”

“No. We could let him charge up in the sunlight then tether him and check his balance in the tunnel. Make what adjustments we need and then try again.”

Orville looked back to where they had started from and sighed. “He’s awfully heavy without the hydrogen in his belly.”

Wilbur grinned. “Think you could animate a golem from sand?

Orville scowled. “It will never hold together.”

“Ah well. Here. You take the broken wing. Let’s fold it as much as we can. We can use the burlap like a stretcher.”

I flew. In a way, I flew. That it was only for short periods of time and that I was tethered made no difference to me. I was flying. I looked to the day when Orville and Wilbur would take me out to Kitty Hawk and let me fly by myself again. They made adjustments to my wings. They grew the length of my neck. Changed the shape of my head. I often just spread my wings and held still while they launched me in the air to see how far I could glide. I learned to twist my wings to bank and turn. I learned to stay still and wait for Orville or Wilbur to right me when I fell. I learned patience. I learned balance.

The Wright Flyer project attracted a lot of attention from the neighborhood boys. The wind tunnel and flight test grounds at Huffman Prairie fascinated them. The dragon construct enthralled them. To see it flame was the highlight of their entire week. The brothers allowed them to stay and watch, using them for help, and to run errands. The experiment was soon the talk of town and town folk would come out to gawk at times, attracted by the stories of an animated flying construct of metal. Their bicycle business boomed at the same time, Dayton residents brought their bicycles to be maintained or repaired at their shop, hoping to get a closer look at the flying construct. They did not know whether to believe the tales told by the young boys, that it was animated, and not merely a dumb machine that had to be controlled by man.

“Call it.”

Wilbur decided. Baby Wright was huffing impatiently. Digging into the sand with his claws, waggling his long tail. That was a new addition and it had done wonders for his balance. He was spreading his wings to catch the sun as well as the wind, and it was lifting him a little, up and down.

“Down, Wright... down.” Orville chuckled as he tossed the silver dollar high up in the air. It spun, sparkling in the bright sun before he caught it with a deft hand and slapped it on the back of the other. Both brothers grinned at each other before their eyes went to the back of Orville’s hand as he lifted the hand covering the coin.

“Tails, you lucky bugger.”

Wilbur hooted with triumph and brushed his hair back from his eyes to look down the stretch of beach. It was a good day and the winds were strong.

“Okay, Wright, baby… bellies full?” The dragon nodded.
“Did you refill his first and second?”
“I certainly did.”
“He’s ready to go then.”

The dragon construct huffed and breathed a small flame in excitement. Both brothers laughed.

“Not too much flame now, you will use up all your lift.”

I like Kitty Hawk. The sun is strong. The wind is strong. My bellies were full, and I breathed a little fire to ease the pressure. It was all I could do to stay on the ground. I clawed the sand but it merely sifted through my claws. I could not grip the ground to help me stay down. If they did not let me fly soon, I know I shall go mad. They were performing some strange ritual. Throwing a bright metal object in the air. I was tempted to leap up to catch it. I know I can. I waited. Impatient. I know I can fly. I like the new tail. It’s longer and gave me better balance. Until I had it, I didn’t know I kept trying to use it. But now, I know. I knew what I was to do. Fly high. Bank, turn and circle. I could fly as long as I had lift and power. My bellies were as full as they could be. Both the first bellies for water and the last for the gases. I breathed more fire. Hurry up! I want to fly!

“Okay, Wright, baby… Up in the air.”

The dragon launched himself up and hovered at Wilbur’s waist level.

“Higher, baby… higher.”

With a flap of his wings and catching the wind, he moved to Wilbur’s shoulder level. Wilbur took hold of him then, and taking a few steps forward, began to run.

“Up and away, Wright! Fly!”

With a hard thrust, he threw the dragon forward. Lowering his head, Wright lined his body into the air stream and flapped his wings. He flew. Rising with the wind, higher and higher. He banked and circled back to the brothers as instructed, hovering above their heads, then with a great puff of flame, took off again.

“Fly, Wright, fly!” Orville shouted in encouragement.

“Yes!” Wilbur threw his hat up in the air.

“We have a flyer!”


In a different world, this could have been the flyer that Wilbur and Orville Wright created.

Back to the Prose Gallery