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A replica is now available for flying just a few miles from where the Wrights experimented. Above: Our writer enjoys a few moments of stable flight. (Andy Torrington)

Orville, Wilbur and Me

You too can fly a Wright aircraft.

Without much altitude or warning, it nosed down. I rolled the ash bar back, which didn’t help the airspeed at all. The glider sort of slammed into the dune.

“Are you okay?” Bruce asked. He was sprawled out on the sand just beyond the wingtip.

“Yeah. Are you okay?” I said.

He leapt to his feet and showered me with positive reinforcement, then told me I’d violated the over-control rule. He and Andy lifted the glider, and Bruce told me to hold the elevator up to get the wings to sail us to the dune top.

Waiting for another weak gust, we sat in the wing’s shadow and guzzled the bottled water we’d packed. Bruce recounted that they’d gotten in some 300-foot glides. “The beauty of it is, if it rains, you get 25 percent more distance because that fabric shrinks up and it’s not nearly as porous. There’s a point where it gets too much, but rain is your friend with that glider.”

We launched again.

I’m flying…. I’m flying…. The left wing dipped, and reflexively I shoved my hip left. The tip stabbed the sand and the glider spiraled. The Wrights called it “well-digging.”

The wind changed direction and picked up to a steady 20 mph, so we hauled the glider from the dune’s relatively shallow east side to the south face’s deeper, wider sand valley. Bruce pointed to a weathered yellow house on the next ridge and told me to point the elevator there. We three lifted the glider—really, we just stopped holding it down—and I got situated: I slid my hips onto the cradle, using my bare feet to push against that aft horizontal bar, elbows clenching my ribcage and holding up my upper body in a sort of yoga pose, both hands gripping the ends of the elevator control bar. I felt like Orville, in the glass-plate photos I’ve seen of him in the glider.

“Ready?”

“Ready.”

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