Dawn Over Kitty Hawk by Walter J. Boyne
Forge HCVR: ISBN0765304716 PubDate: May 2002
Review by Lorraine Marsh
400 pages List price 24.95
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Here's a story of real human beings, bonded in a strong difficult family, and their careful, exacting crossing ofthis field of dreams.
Though we think of the Wright bother's story in terms of Wilbur and Orville, the book expands our view to include their sister Katherine and their father Bishop Milton Wright. The Bishop was a stern man who spoke firmly and loudly in ordering the family. He wanted to see his sons succeed with something more significant than a bicycle shop. And, indeed, they were becoming bored with the success of their business and did want more - to fly. Katherine succeeded, mostly, in keeping the edges smoothed within the family, reducing a different kind of turbulence than that the brothers were obsessed with, and providing a contribution surely as important to their ultimate success as anyone else's.
The foundation of their success was their thorough analysis of what it would take to make powered flight possible. It would have been an adventure to have seen them fly their kites, test their wing shapes, test their materials.
Though we tend to think of their challenge in terms of aerodynamics, it becomes evident through their trials that like many other scientific breakthroughs, it was as much a matter of material science as anything else. Archimedes said, "Give me a long enough lever and a place to stand, and I will move the world." He should have said, "a stout enough lever" and he would have more nearly described Wilbur and Orville's challenge. Like Edison's lamp and the search for the carbon filament, this was a struggle to match materials to vision and forge a new reality.
Though the brothers shared a dream they differed in temperament, and the trials they faced exacted different tolls from each. Nor were the Wrights alone in trying to fly. The stories and attempts of Glen Curtis, Alexander Graham Bell, and Samuel Pierpont Langley are fresh and powerful as were the men themselves. Though these men may be giants, the highest moment belongs to the Wright brothers, and for me it came not when they soared at Kitty Hawk but when Wilbur flew with complete control around the not-large-enough racetrack in France.
Deceptively ordinary in style and griping in content this story will stay with the reader. Actually, easy to put down when one must leave reading for other things, because the story is so real one knows it will be there the moment one can get back to it.