They Taught Me To Fly

 

This article appeared in the Dayton Journal Herald on December 12, 1943

 “They Taught Me To Fly…”
By Gen. H. H. Arnold
Commanding General, Army Air forces
 
     These 40 years have moved rapidly and, for once, it can be truly said that it seems as if it were only yesterday.  The airplane is one of those rare cases where the effect of a great invention upon society can be observed within the span of one lifetime.  That has been Orville Wright’s lot, and the amazing growth from that first product of a bicycle shop to the modern flying giants is a greater tribute to him than any words that can be written.
     Objectivity would be necessary for a true estimate of the Wright brother’s contribution to civilization.  That would be particularly difficult for me as it was the Wright brothers who first taught me how to fly.  None who had contact with them in those early years could escape a strong personal admiration for them, for their great vision, for their complete and utter belief in the new science they had suddenly made a reality.
     To achieve that reality—the conquest of the air—has been the dream of many minds in the past and the final, historic chapter to all those dreams was written at Kitty Hawk.  That December day was also the opening chapter in a story that will continue as long as there is the air above me.  A third dimension had been opened for man’s activity.  Others followed in the path of the brothers from Dayton; many gave their lives but there were always more to fill the gaps.  Immediate Army interest helped send the new invention higher and faster while the oceans and continents became narrower and smaller.  Today, we do not gasp if we hear of speeds of 500 miles an hour and when we are asked how distant a place is we can safely reply: it is very near.
     Much can be said of the airplane for rarely has man’s way of life been affected as deeply and as suddenly by any single invention.  We could, for example, discuss the abuse rather than the use of the airplane for we also remember another December day—not at Kitty Hawk but at Pearl Harbor.  Those who were responsible for that treachery forgot that the airplane was a product of free men who would stand the test of war because they had stood the test of peace.  In that sense, the Army Air Forces—a miracle of size and superior quality—can be regarded as the heritage of Orville Wright, his brother and the others who struggled with them in those early years.  Although the Japanese used aviation as a weapon of treachery, we have forged it into the decisive weapon of freedom.
     There can be no higher praise for Orville Wright than to remember that on this anniversary of the first flight.