The scarily named Kill Devil Hills, about four miles south of Kitty Hawk in North Carolina, was the scene of something special on December 17, 1903. After many trials and failed attempts, the Wright brothers, Orville and Wilbur, successfully achieved the first flight of a heavier-than-air powered aircraft.

Hand-made by the brothers

The brothers had a background in engineering and had experience running a printing business, a bicycle repair shop and then went on to manufacture their own brand of bicycles. However, they had been fascinated with flight ever since they were young. In the late 19th century, the brothers designed and developed a series of gliders, funded by their business, and were at the cutting edge of the technology of the time.

In 1903, Orville and Wilbur built the Wright Flyer I from scratch. The plane’s main material was spruce wood, chosen for being lightweight yet strong. The brothers designed and carved the wooden propellers themselves and constructed the engine in their bicycle shop. The first flights were little steps – 120 feet (37m) at a speed of 6.8 mph (11 km/h), the next 175 feet (53m) and the final one 200 feet (61m) – but very significant, especially considering how important aviation is today. We’re even talking about low-orbit tourist flights nowadays – just over a century after the first powered flight!

Learning from Orville and Wilbur

Facing headwinds, taking advantage of tailwinds, and flying longer distances at every attempt is something that we at MANN+HUMMEL in Fayetteville, North Carolina can relate to. It’s been a challenging couple of years since the plant was taken over by MANN+HUMMEL. The company has invested a lot into infrastructure and facilities. We’re also supporting our people to create the right company atmosphere. It’s a different way of thinking and culture change takes time.

When we were asked to come up with an essential item to send to Ludwigsburg as part of MANN+HUMMEL’s 75th Anniversary celebrations, I thought we should do something that reflects our values and spirit. We’ve learnt that improvement takes a lot of effort, passion, perseverance, determination, research, and innovation – and a little luck doesn’t hurt, either. The Wright brothers put in all this and more to achieve the first powered flight. Our essential item is therefore a model of the Wright Flyer I – but with a bit of a twist.

Handmade by our Board

One day, I got our Board Members together to tell them about the 75th Anniversary celebrations and how each MANN+HUMMEL location is contributing. They were delighted that our essential was to be on display at an exhibition at the Technology Centre in Ludwigsburg and then placed in a time capsule for future generations to find and explore. What they didn’t realise at the time was that they had to work together to make this plan a reality.

My general manager and I managed to keep this part of the plan a secret; the model of the Flyer was still in kit form and our Board Members needed to build the model themselves – there and then. Like the Wright brothers, our Board members have engineering backgrounds and the memories of building models as kids came flooding back. Soon, the atmosphere was buzzing with passion. There was lots of excitement and discussions while the plans were studied and everyone was given their own part to play. Within a few hours, our model was built and ready to go!

The flight of Wright Flyer I marked the beginning of the pioneering era of flight and the Wright Brothers laid the foundation of the success of aviation today. It is a story we can all learn from as we celebrate our own achievements and go forward together.

Flying high in Fayetteville