Published December 17, 2003
WASHINGTON – President Bush made a quick trip to pay tribute to the Wright brothers' (search) first flight Wednesday, saying those who witnessed the event 100 years ago sensed "that the world might never be the same."
They may not have envisioned just how commonplace flight would become - especially if you live in the White House. Bush breezed down to North Carolina early Wednesday, delivered his speech, and left in time to be back in Washington by midday.
"In the future, flight will advance in ways that none of us can imagine as we stand here today," said Bush, his hair soaked by rain. "Yet always, for as long as there is human flight, we will honor the achievement on a cold morning on the Outer Banks of North Carolina."
Bush took one flying machine, a helicopter known as Marine One (search), from the White House to nearby Andrews Air Force Base; then boarded another, the jumbo Boeing 747 commonly known as Air Force One (search), for North Carolina; then he was onto another helicopter for the hop to the Outer Banks.
He traveled hundreds of miles aloft for a trip lasting only a few hours, which is not unusual for this president: He has logged nearly 100,000 miles on Air Force One this year alone, White House officials say. Wednesday, he flew into a driving rain storm here.
More than 168,000 flights take off from America's airports every day, said Interior Secretary Gale Norton.
Pro-space optimists had buzzed for weeks over whether Bush would use the 100th anniversary of the Wright brothers' flight to announce a new mission to the moon, but the White House made clear the president had no such intentions.
Actor John Travolta, introducing Bush, told the president, "not only do I vote for that option, but I volunteer to go on the first mission."
Bush made no commitments on a new space mission, but said of Travolta: "We shall call him moon man from now on."
The Wright Flyer "flew just 12 seconds and 40 yards," Bush noted. A second flight lasted 59 seconds.
"Yet everyone who was here at that hour sensed that a great line had been crossed and the world might never be the same," said Bush, a one-time fighter pilot.
The president's trip was a full-circle return of sorts to the dunes of Kill Devil Hills, N.C., just south of Kitty Hawk (search), the site of "12 seconds that changed the world."
Bush traveled aboard one of the world's most recognizable descendants of the Wright Flyer. He left shortly before a replica of the Wright plane was scheduled to take off at 10:35 a.m. EST. As it turned out, the re-enactment was delayed by rain.
As the president departed, Air Force One passed directly over the muddy field where thousands of spectators were awaiting the re-enactment. Flying at 1,200 feet, the pilot dipped a wing to salute the crowd, and flashbulbs popped by the hundreds below.
Bush needed to return to a busy afternoon schedule at the White House, including policy briefings and holiday receptions, McClellan said. Also, the White House worried his presence might distract from the celebration if he stayed longer, McClellan said.
The Experimental Aircraft Association (search) hired retired pilot Ken Hyde to build a precise Wright flyer replica to fly on the centennial, capping a weeklong festival honoring the Wrights' successful flights of Dec. 17, 1903.