I liked McCullough’s account of the Wright brothers a lot, but fact-wise did not get too much out of it since all of this ground had been covered in my previously-read To Conquer The Air.
One new facet that struck me on this reading of the story is how determined Wilbur was to not fly until everything was ready, no matter what/who was pressuring them. Multiple times in France and later famously at Ft. Myers near Washington, DC, many thousands of onlookers, dignitaries, and even royalty gathered hoping to see a flight, only to wait all day and be disappointed when Wilbur judged the weather or the airplane not quite right yet. The mechanics assigned to help Wilbur with the Flyer in Le Mans were amazed how he insisted on inspecting and doing much of the work himself. Very high standards in this regard led to a remarkable safety record for the Wrights. The one major accident, where Orville crashed and Lt. Selfridge was killed, took place while Wilbur was away in France…I wonder if Orville let the crowds pressure him more than Wilbur did, and thus he failed to notice a crack or weakening of the propeller which eventually broke in mid-air.
Once again, I am amazed how nobody believed that they were really flying despite numerous eyewitnesses at Huffman Prairie. I guess it gave all the more wonder and glory when they finally showed the world nearly simultaneously at Le Mans in France (Wilbur) and Ft. Myers in the US (Orville).
I think it would be fun to do a Wright Brothers-focused tour someday – Dayton, Kitty Hawk, Ft. Myers, maybe New York; then Le Mans and Pau in France followed perhaps by Rome and Berlin.
Wilbur’s early death at age 45 in 1912 from typhoid fever is sad … but at the same time, it seemed like his work was complete – the world knew flight was possible and the new age of aviation had begun – and thus the main actor freely exited stage left with characteristic humility.