Saturday, July 18, 2015

How the Wright Brothers Got to the Moon

Review by Bill Doughty


When naval aviator and U.S. astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first man to step onto the moon he brought a physical piece of the Wright Brothers legacy with him. What the fellow Ohioan carried with him is revealed in David McCullough's latest work, "The Wright Brothers" (Simon & Schuster, 2015).

McCullough, the author of "1776," "Truman" and "John Adams," explains how and why Wilbur and Orville were successful in inventing the airplane and demonstrating the first  human-operated, powered and sustained flight of a heavier-than-air machine in 1903.

The brothers faced family ravages of typhoid and tuberculosis, swarms of "demon mosquitoes," oppressive heat and plenty of crashes before and after their first flight. Later, another challenge was just getting the scientific community, media and nation to take them seriously.

How they dealt with challenges and setbacks was key to their success.


Wilbur and Orville Wright at home in Dayton, Ohio, 1909.
The boys' father, Reverend Milton Wright, bought them educational toys and books, encouraged high standards of excellence, promoted unity of purpose and nurtured determination. "We learn much from tribulation, and by adversity our hearts are made better," the senior Wright wrote to Orville after a crash cost the life of an Army lieutenant.

The brothers' high school teacher noted "their patient persistence, their calm faith in ultimate success, their mutual consideration of each other."

Books in the Wright family collection included ecclesiastical works alongside works by Robert Ingersoll, who had an apparently significant influence on the brothers, according to McCullough.
"There could be found the works of Dickens, Washington Irving, Hawthorne, Mark Twain, a complete set of the works of Sir Walter Scott, the poems of Virgil, Plutarch's 'Lives,' Milton's 'Paradise Lost,' Boswell's 'Life of Johnson,' Gibbon's 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,' and Thucydides. There were books on natural history, American history, a six-volume history of France, travel, the 'Instructive Speller,' Darwin's 'On the Origin of Species,' plus two full sets of encyclopedias."
Wilbur was interested in history and science, especially birds, equilibrium and the study of wind.

McCullough's butterscotch voice comes through the narrative as if the reader is listening to a Ken Burns documentary. McCullough's descriptive powers, so strong in all his work, are put to good effect here. For example, here is the author's description of the Outer Banks of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina:
"The previous winter on the Banks had been especially severe, one continuing succession of storms, the brothers were told, the rain coming down in such torrents as to make a lake that reached for miles near their camp. Ninety-mile-an-hour winds had lifted their building from its foundation and set it down several feet closer to the ocean. Mosquitoes were said to have been so thick they turned day into night, the lightning so terrible it turned night into day.  But the winds had also sculpted the sand hills into the best shape for gliding the brothers had seen, and the September days now were so glorious, so ideal, that instead of turning at once to setting up camp, they put the glider from the year before in shape and spent what Wilbur called 'the finest day we ever had in practice.'"
The brothers' aircraft were tested near Kitty Hawk and refined in a pasture near Dayton, Ohio, where their 1905 Flyer would become the first practical aircraft 110 years ago this year.
"It was at Huffman Prairie that summer and fall of 1905 that the brothers, by experiment and change, truly learned to fly. Then, also, at last, with a plane they could rely on, they could permit themselves enjoyment in what they had achieved. They could take pleasure in the very experience of traveling through the air in a motor-powered machine as no one had. And each would try as best he could to put the experience in words."
McCullough at Wright State University with CBS's Rita Braver.
McCullough's extensive research helps us experience the brothers' emotions and read their first-hand accounts.  The author acknowledges resources with humility, respect and appreciation, including Library of Congress, Wright State University in Dayton and Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum.

This book takes us through the early life of the Wright Brothers, their success in designing and selling bicycles and their adventures in Europe, especially in Paris, at a time when they were courted by French, British and German governments and militaries – before the American military showed real interest in their achievements.

Eventually they received honors, memorials and accolades (and unfortunately acrimonious patent infringements) from Dayton to D.C. and from Le Mans to New York. We learn about their relationship with Otto Lilienthal, Chanute Langley, Charles Lindbergh, Alexander Bell, Glenn Curtiss and other friends and rivals.

Wilbur's flight in New York around the Statue of Liberty and above the departing Lusitania in 1909 is a standout. Orville saw the 1921 commissioning of his namesake USS Wright (AV/AZ-1), a ship that was captained by commanding officers that included Ernest J. King, Aubrey W. Fitch and Marc A. Mitscher and which fought in World War II in the Pacific. Orville lived long enough to see aircraft and bombers used extensively in WWII. The first USS Kitty Hawk (APV-1) was launched in 1941 and served throughout the Second World War. Another namesake, the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk II (CV(A) 63), was launched 57 years after the brothers' first flight, served nearly half a century, and was decommissioned in 2009. Read an extensive timeline history of the USS Kitty Hawk here.

When Neil Armstrong stepped on the lunar surface in 1969 he carried with him a piece of muslin from the Wright Brothers' 1903 Kitty Hawk Flyer.


Orville Wright (left) congratulates Maj. C.A. Lutz, United States Marine Corps flyer, who won the Curtiss Marine Trophy in Washington, May 18, 1928. Lutz averaged 157 miles an hour. (Photo by Harris & Ewing)

Monday, July 6, 2015

Time for Resilience / Navy SEAL's Wisdom

Review by Bill Doughty

There can be happiness in struggle as long as fear doesn't cripple us from making good choices and taking positive action.

That's the conclusion of Navy SEAL Lt. Cmdr. Eric Greitens, author of "Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015). This book is filled with philosophy and insights from the Greeks, Romans, Enlightenment thinkers and BUD/S training – all geared to understanding and promoting resilience.
"Resilience is the virtue that enables people to move through hardship and become better. No one escapes pain, fear and suffering. Yet from pain can come wisdom, from fear can come courage, from suffering can come strength – if you have the virtue of resilience. People have known this for thousands of years. But today a lot of this ancient wisdom goes unheeded. In my work with other veterans who have overcome injuries and loss – the loss of limbs, the loss of comrades, the loss of purpose – I have heard one thing over and over again: their moments of darkness often led, in time, to their days of greatest growth."
Then-Lt. Greitens in Iraq
Greitens's book is structured as a series of letters to a fellow SEAL suffering post-traumatic stress syndrome. The author offers practical advice based on esoteric lessons of life through history. In one example he shows how ancient Roman hero Cato, who fought against the dictatorship of Julius Caesar, trained his body and mind. He would become an inspiration to the founders of the United States, including George Washington, whose army showed remarkable resilience in 1776.

Whether in war, in business or at home, "resilience is the key to a well-lived life."
"If you want to be happy, you need resilience. If you want to be successful, you need resilience. You need resilience because you can't have happiness, success, or anything else worth having without meeting hardship along the way."
In a thoughtful piece in Time magazine early last month Mandy Oaklander reported that the study of resilience started after World War II by Ann Masten, examining the effects of war on displaced and traumatized men, women and children. Why did some bounce back despite the hardships they had endured?

Another researcher, Emmy E. Werner, of the University of California, Berkeley, and author of several publications related to her work, began a 40-year study in 1955.  She followed "nearly 700 children in Kauai, Hawaii, many of whom had alcoholic parents," and finding that one-third of the most at-risk children fared exceptionally well over time due to three factors:

  • A tight-knit community,
  • A stable role model and
  • A strong belief in their ability to solve problems.

You can see how that applies in Greitens's world: The SEALs provide the tight-knit community; good leaders, instructors and shipmates provide stable role models; and a culture of honor, courage and commitment provides the belief in self. Other groups have their own systems of support.

Studies of resilience were conducted with U.S. Prisoners of War from Vietnam in the 70s. They used their only "two resources – free time and their minds" to creatively and imaginatively escape inward and retain hope in the face of stress and fear.

Wounded Warriors train in Hawaii. Photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist John M. Hageman
The military is at the forefront of studying resilience. Researcher Martin Paulus of the Laureate Institute for Brain Research in Tulsa, Okla. has performed brain-imaging experiments to demonstrate resilience. His subjects have included Marine infantry platoons training in San Diego and Navy SEALs. 

Not surprisingly, the SEALs demonstrated exceptional abilities in mindfulness and controlling fear. Scientists are proving the importance of the link between exercising the body and exercising the mind in building neurobiological strength and resilience.

Oaklander and Time refer to the work of Drs. Dennis Charney, Dean of Icahn School of Medicine, and Steven Southwick, of Yale School of Medicine, authors of the 2012 book "Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life's Greatest Challenges," to be updated and republished this year with new research.

One size may not fit all when it comes to achieving resilience, but a common theme in the Time article and the Greitens book is the importance of controlling fear.

From Greitens:
"Fear can make human beings do amazing things. Fear can help you to see your world clearly in a way that you never have before. Fear becomes destructive when it drives us to do things that are unwise or unhelpful. Fear becomes destructive when it begins to cloud our vision. But like most emotions, fear is destructive only when it runs wild. Embrace the fear that comes from accepting responsibility, and use it to propel yourself to become the person you choose to be."
Read my Navy Reads post "Faith, Fear and Tom Hanks" for another view of how toxic, corrosive fear can be countered with wisdom and reason and why it's important to support our veterans. 

With humility and a caring attitude Greitens gives advice and "practical wisdom" gained through the ages in order to "focus your mind, control your stress and excel under pressure."
"Pain can break us or make us wiser. Suffering can destroy us or make us stronger. Fear can cripple us, or it can make us more courageous. It is resilience that makes the difference."
This book is endorsed by retired Admiral Mike Mullens, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former Chief of Naval Operations, who developed the first Navy Professional Reading Program. Another supporter who endorses the book and the work of Eric Greitens is producer/director/writer J.J. Abrams, who is recharging the Star Trek and Star Wars franchises.

"Resilience" is a good companion to help understand the pain, fear and suffering endured by the sailors and civilians who go north in Hampton Sides's "In the Kingdom of Ice," recently reviewed on Navy Reads.