They always offered to send a plane to Dayton to fetch Orville Wright for Washington conferences, "but he always graciously declined" and took the train.
It is one thing to design, build and operate the first power-driven, heavier-than-air machine to manage free controlled and sustained flight.
It is something else again to be expected to ride around in the things.
"I always thought he was sensible," said Gen. Ira Eaker, former commander of the Eighth Air Force, "to take the sleeper to Washington." Eaker was among 30 guests of William J. Welsh, deputy librarian of Congress at lunch yesterday, amid some of the library's treasure of Wright documents.
One letter in the collection is from the Wrights asking the Smithsonian Institution to send them all the information they had about aviation.
Dr. David Challinor, representing the Smithsonian, said they sent material "perhpas peripheral" to their interests, but the institution didn't have much about aviation early in the cen tury, after all. Besides, a periphery is better than a void.
The 75th anniversary of the Wright Brothers' flight at Kitty Hawk is Sunday, and an assortment of scholars, military, aviation and library authorities joined some members of the Wright family chomping chicken and talking about the years when planes were planes, by golly.
"I first went up in 1911," said Ivonette Miller of Dayton, niece of the birdmen.
"We sat on the lower wing. There was a strut you could put your feet on. We had been up about 10 minutes when Uncle Orv spotted what you would call a trolley car, what we called the inter-urban. He said, 'Would you like to catch if,' and of course I would, so he landed just where he thought the car would be. We rode home on the inter-urban."
Of course in those days you didn't have to hassle to park your plane pretty near anywhere.
On the great historic first flight, Orville had set his camera on a tripod, and aimed it at the point he hoped the plane would reach, asking John T. Daniels of the Kill Devil Life Saving Station to shoot at the perfect moment.
There were four brief and successful flights that day, and the brothers were happy to talk to admiring spectators.
While thus engaged in triumph, a little wind came up and overturned the plane, making it look even more like kindling than formerly.
It is interesting that the Wrights, who kep careful photographic records, did not blush to snap the wrecked plane, or any other of their setbacks. Three hundfed and three glass plates are now part of the library's collection, acquried from the Wrights' estate.
A fairly sensational item offered by the library to the public is a set of negatives from these plates, and a 20-page illustrated booklet (easily fitting in a raincoat pocket) for $4. Some fairly advanced techniques were used to turn the glass plates into negatives for halftones.
A Wright dairy in the library records progress in the development of flight, but it ends with a great childish scrawl saying, "Ivonette Wright, Ivonette Wright."
Ivonette Miller, now in her 80s, said:
"I can only conclude I was sitting on my uncle's knee when I was about 6, and he asked me if I could write my name yet. And he must have produced the diary and let me write my name to show him. If I had only known that some day it would be in the Library of Congress . . ."
Welsh asked for the negative of Ivonette to be shown on a lighted machine, and for most of lunch everybody was able to see the same little girl at 3 and at 81.
The Wrights had a St. Bernard named Scipio, and among the 300 glass plates are 10 of the dog. It is not known why there are so many dog pictures among the photographic records-perhaps he fetched struts or helped correct the designs; in any case a portrait of the mutt sprawled full lenght against the wood balustrade of a porch, is the same general proportion as the Wright Flyer.
Melvin Zisfein, acting director of the Air and Space Museum, observed that the commonest error in mushings over technology is to overestimate the state of the art at the time of musing, and to underestimate the progress likely to be made in the next few years.
He also said th hardest thing to get over in a museum is the attitude with which something like the Wrights' plane was received by contemporaries.
We see a museum object-like the plane-as the orderly ancestor of the planes we ride today, but we forget if did not look like the ancestor of anything the day it first flew. He spoke a bit, with maybe more enthusiastic affection than ordinary men would admit to, of "crazies, ides" that everybody said wouldn't work, weren't needed, cost too much, frightened horses, ect.
In fairly recent years, he said, when he worked in a large corporation, he was warned not to be seen too often speaking with the nuts who were taking abut "space ships" and similar tomfoolery.
Gen. H. B. Hull, representing NASA, and now retired from the Air were opposed to any military use for planes.
In World War II, he said, serveral hundred thousand injured soldiers and sailors were gotten home quickly thanks to air transports, and he liked to think the Wrights would have approved that humanitarian use.
Nobody likes war, he said, though he himself disslikes war itself. While he was about it, he warned of a "yo-yo" effect by which national interest in air strenght goes up and down. He cited the axing of the B-1 bomber and supersonic plane projects as deplorable examples of the lowest yo.
Harold S. Miller of Dayton, executor of the Orville Wright estate, said the original Wright plane was sold to the Smithsonian for one dollar.
"As executor I had the legal respondsibility of protecting the interest of the heirs,c he said, "and of executing everything faithfully. What value do you put on the plane itself? One museum offered a million dollars for it.
"At the last I said it should go for one dollar-I still have the check and if anybody wanted to argue about it, he would have to got to court."
"Did any of the heirs argue?"
"Not really. They said, 'If that's what Orville wanted, that's the way it should be.'
"I was talking to a man at the Air Museum. He said they had one plane acquired for $25,000 and he thought it was the greatest bargain they ever made. He was dumbfounded to find it cost oone buck."