What if Orville and Wilbur Wright had not figured out how to fly? What if they had remained bicycle makers? Or what if they had learned to fly, but back home in their home of Dayton, Ohio instead of Carolina's Outer Banks? How would this world of ours be different from these what-ifs?
I'm here to tell you about what I think would be the greatest difference between those imagined worlds and this one: the Outer Banks in North Carolina would not have a pair of sister radio stations -- make that brother radio stations -- that call themselves "Wilbur" and "Orville". That's WZPR 92.1 FM, styled Wilbur, and WYND 97.1, Orville. From Nags Head and Hatteras, this is really just one station broadcasting on two frequencies. And they play, of course and naturally, "just plane good country music". And between nearly every pair of songs, they tell listeners like me that this is "Wilbur and Orville" (matter of fact, just heard it as I wrote those three words).
So much so that I'm thoroughly sick of those names. Hearing them 2,437,874 times in the course of a day will do that. Why didn't I simply change stations, you ask? No reason that I can offer. Call it inertia.
Now there's a Wright brothers legacy I'm sure would make them proud: a country music station calls itself by their names. Boeing 747s and setting foot on the moon and the Gossamer Condor -- none of those quite match up.
More seriously, I spent a few hours at the Wright Brothers' Memorial in Kill Devil Hills. There are markers showing how far each of their first four flights were, that morning of December 17 1903. Flight #1 was 120 feet, taking 12 seconds. Flight #4 went 852 feet in 59 seconds.
So as my own tribute to these pioneers, I walk those lengths between the markers, timing myself roughly. The 120 feet, I cover in 20 seconds. Thus on that short flight, the Wright Flyer flew about 65% faster than I walk. But the 852 feet takes me about 152 seconds. So when it got into the air for a longer time, the Flyer got up to about two-and-a-half times my walking speed.
It's curiously gratifying to know that the speed of this original aircraft through the air was effectively comparable to walking. My guess is that that doesn't hold true any more. Even if you walk fast.