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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 December, 2003, 22:24 GMT
Historic US flight attempt fails
The replica Flyer grinds to a halt on North Carolina beach
Instead of soaring into the air, the replica Flyer slid into a puddle
An attempt to recreate the world's first powered human flight on the original site of the event has failed.

The replica of the Flyer plane, flown 100 years ago by the Wright brothers, lost its tailfin as it ditched in mud while trying to take off in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

Bad weather had earlier prevented the re-enactment taking place at the precise moment of the centenary.

In 1903, Orville Wright made a 12-second flight of just over 30 metres.

Disappointment

Thousands had gathered at the site to celebrate the historic flight.

FIRST FLIGHT
Orville and Wilbur Wright
The Flyer weighed 341kg - including the pilot
It was 6.4m long with a 12.3m wingspan
The right wing was four inches longer than the left one to counter the engine weight
A Boeing 747 is 225ft long - 100ft longer than the first flight
But the replica Flyer, instead of soaring briefly into the air, slid down a wooden track and ground to a halt in a muddy puddle.

Pilot Kevin Kochersberger, an aviation professor from New York state, looked initially despondent but managed to laugh before the plane was hauled off.

The plane, which has a top speed of just 30mph (48kph), had crashed at least once in trials but managed to fly on separate occasions.

Despite the disappointment, US President George W Bush - who briefly attended the centenary ceremony - said that in memory of the Wright brothers' achievement, the US would continue to set precedents in the world of flight.

"A great American journey that began in Kitty Hawk continues in ways unimaginable to the Wright brothers," he told the assembled crowd.

"By our skills and daring we will continue to lead the world in flight."

A host of great aviators and astronauts attended the commemoration, including Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin - the first men to walk on the moon - and Chuck Yeager, the first person to shatter the sound barrier.

Actor John Travolta, himself a pilot, also attended, acting as master of ceremonies.

The aviators are among the 100 all-time heroes of aviation selected by the First Flight Centennial Commission - the state agency helping to run the six-day centennial celebration.

Global celebrations

Across the world similar ceremonies commemorating the Wright brothers' achievement were held.

Wright Flyer 1 on its first flight
There has been controversy over the Wright brothers' achievements
An aerodrome in Bedfordshire, England, held an air display of vintage planes including a 1910 Bristol Boxkite, said to be the closest aircraft in Britain to the Flyer.

The British Airline Pilots' Association marked the event by launching an annual award for Outstanding Airmanship among civilian pilots.

A museum in Bangalore, India, displayed a full-scale model of the Flyer to schoolchildren.

And more than 100 small airplanes earlier flew around the perimeter of Budapest in Hungary to honour the centenary.

Controversy

Wilbur and Orville Wright lived in an age when it was still possible for two bicycle shop owners with a penchant for tinkering in their garden shed to achieve a scientific breakthrough.

On 17 December, 1903, their Flyer never rose more than a few feet off the ground.

Nonetheless, it was the first time man had achieved a controlled, powered flight in a machine that was heavier than air.

But there has been controversy over the Wright brothers' achievements.

Many Brazilians say that their aviation hero Alberto Santos Dumont, who on October 1906 he flew a small plane for 60 metres before a crowd of journalists and aviation officials, should receive the accolades showered on the Wright brothers.

They argue the Wright brothers' record was witnessed only by a handful of people and not corroborated by officials.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Ian Pannell
"Through war and peace, the aeroplane has become a fixed symbol of modern life"



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