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There is no shortage of quality biographies of the Wright brothers (I particularly enjoyed The Bishop's Boys by Tom Crouch), and with the Centenary of their historic powered flight coming up in 2003 (December 17th), there are likely to be a few more added to the shelf.  An author (or authors) would therefore do well to have something about their book that will distinguish it from the others.  In the exquisite new book, On Great White Wings, Fred Culick and Spencer Dunmore have found just the thing to separate them from the crowd; not only do they explain the technical details of the Wright brothers achievement in the most accessible prose you're likely to find, they also provide a plethora of photos and diagrams that give the reader a brand new appreciation for the brothers' feat and for their other, less well known, accomplishments.

The illustrations, over 200 in all, include actual photos of Orville, Wilbur, and the various iterations of their famous Flyer; vintage photos of Kitty Hawk and other locations of importance to the story, and many modern color photos that serve as helpful reminders that these were real places, real men and a real machine.   Meanwhile, the authors rescue the Wright brothers from the mythology that has grown up around them--that they were little more than gifted tinkerers--and shows just how knowledgeable and innovative they truly were.

The book also includes a few pictures and some information about a project that Mr. Culick, a professor of aeronautics at Cal Tech, is involved in, which will seek to duplicate the Wright brothers' feat.  Well, almost duplicate it, that is.  It seems that the original Flyer is so unstable that it is widely considered too dangerous to try and fly an exact replica.

Any reader looking for just one book about the Wright brothers will find this one to be adequate where the text is concerned and quite probably unsurpassed when it comes to illustrations.  But, if you've the time and the inclination, I'd recommend that you read Bishop's Boys for its more comprehensive treatment of the Wrights and then refer back to On Great White Wings when you're trying to visualize their remarkable flights.

(Reviewed:)

Grade: (A-)

  

Websites:

Book-related and General Links:
    -Professor F. E. C. Culick, California Institute of Technology
    -ESSAY : The Origins of the First Powered, Man-carrying Airplane : The Wright brothers' "Flyer'' of 1903 was not just a lucky effort by two bicycle mechanics from Dayton but the outcome of an intensive program of research, engineering and testing  (F. E. C. Culick)
    -THE 1903 WRIGHT FLYER PROJECT
    -Wright Flyer Project
    -BOOK SITE :  On Great WhiteWings : The Wright Brothers and the Race for Flight By Fred E. C. Culick and Spencer Dunmore (Hyperion)
    -ARTICLE : Wright Flyer a handful for today's pilots (USA Today, 8/13/01)
    -ARTICLE : Aviation experts: Wrights' first airplane nearly impossible to fly (ANDREW BRIDGES, 07/05/01, AP)
    -ARTICLE : Enthusiasts Try to Learn How Wright Brothers Did It (WARREN E. LEARY, March 16, 1999, NY Times)
    -ARTICLE : How did Wilbur and Orville do it? : Engineers try to crack long-running aerospace riddle (Greg Lefevre,  March 4, 1999, CNN)
 

WRIGHT BROTHERS :
    -ARTICLE: AIRSHIP AFTER BUYER: Inventors of North Carolina Box Kite Machine Want Government to Purchase It (NY Times, 12/25/1903)
    -ETEXT : How We Made The First Flight - by Orville Wright (HTML e-text of an account written by Orville Wright, with photos. Hosted by AeroWeb)
    -Orville & Wilbur Wright (National Inventors Hall of Fame)
    -TIME 100 : Scientists & Thinkers : Wilbur and Orville Wright
    -Orville Wright : American Co-Inventor of the First Successful Airplane (1871 - 1948) (Lucid Cafe)
    -Wright Flight (American Experience, PBS)
    -The "Wright" Stuff (FAA Aviation Education)
    -U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission
    -Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
    -Wright Brothers National Memorial (Kill Devil Hills)
    -Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company, a working museum of pioneer aviation
    -Countdown to Kitty Hawk--2003
    -Wright Brothers History: The Tale of the Airplane (Gary Bradshaw)
    -ESSAY : Wilbur and Orville Wright (Gary Bradshaw)
    -Registers of Papers in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress : WILBUR AND ORVILLE WRIGHT
    -PHOTOS : Kitty Hawk - Kill Devil Hills Wright Brothers Photographs 1900-1911 (Library of Congress)
    -REVIEW: of To Conquer the Air: The Wright Brothers and the Great Race for Flight By James Tobin (The Economist)

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