By all accounts the day was gray and blustery. A coin toss had determined who would make the first flight of the day. Orville lay down on the flyer and then man and aircraft ascended about 10 feet into the air. The flight lasted 12 seconds and covered about 120 feet. The brothers each made two flights that day. Wilbur traveled the farthest and longest, staying airborne for 59 seconds and covering 852 feet. In the years that followed, some would argue that the Wrights did not make the first powered flight. But there is no doubt that they took to the air on that December morning.
The postcard above is from the North Carolina Postcards online collection. There’s no information about the men in the photo. Perhaps it’s the Wright Brothers. But it’s hard to tell.
This year’s commemoration of the Wrights’ flights will also pay tribute to the 100th anniversary of naval aviation. And, so, as a salute to naval pilots, we recall the Naval Pre-Flight Training Program that ran from 1942-1945 at UNC-Chapel Hill. The university was host to the second stage of a one-year training program for pilots. Beginning in May 1942 cadets arrived at the rate of about 300 every two weeks until a quota of 1,875 was reached. To accommodate the influx of servicemen, the University renovated ten dormitories, expanded Woollen Gymnasium, and built a new infirmary, recreation center (Navy Hall), and athletic field. The list of individuals who traveled through Chapel Hill as part of the Navy Pre-Flight School in Chapel Hill include president Gerald Ford and George Bush, baseball great Ted Williams, and legendary Alabama football coach Paul (Bear) Bryant. The Pre-Flight School closed in 1945. The North Carolina Collection Photographic Archive holds about 6,000 negatives of photographs documenting the Navy program.