By AUDREY FISCHER
While some historians believe everything has already been written about the flying Wright brothers, Larry E. Tise, the Wilbur and Orville Wright Distinguished Professor at East Carolina University, has a “to do” list of no less than 15 untapped projects related to the famous duo.
From identifying “hidden images” of the pair and their flying machines to authenticating their homemade table, the list keeps getting longer.
His most recent completed project is the publication of his new book, “Conquering the Sky: The Secret Flights of the Wrights Brothers at Kitty Hawk.” The book focuses on seven days in May 1908 when the world first learned of the achievements in powered flight that the brothers had been experimenting with for nearly five years.
Tise came to the Library on April 7 to discuss the book as well as past, present and future Wright projects. The program was sponsored by the Center for the Book, as part of its Books & Beyond author series, and the Manuscript Division, which houses the Wilbur and Orville Wright Papers in which Tise conducted much of his research.
The buildup to Wilbur and Orville Wright’s first powered flights in 1903 is history that is well-known to aviation enthusiasts everywhere. Five years later, the Wright brothers returned to Kitty Hawk, N.C., to perform the test flights that would catapult them to international fame. That spring, in 1908, marked a major turning point in the Wrights’ career and the history of aviation, yet the details of those flights and what led to them have remained largely unexplored. This untapped area of research is at the heart of Tise’s book.
As Tise explains, despite their great achievements, Wilbur and Orville Wright were effectively anonymous until 1908. In seven crucial days in May of that year, however, the eyes of the world were suddenly cast upon them as they sought lucrative government contracts for their flying technology and then had to prove the capabilities of their machines. In these pivotal moments, the brothers were catapulted into unwanted worldwide fame as the international press discovered and followed their covert flight tests and reported their every move.
“The Wright brothers’ story is alive and growing in North Carolina,” said Tise. He praised Leonard Bruno, the Library’s curator of aeronautics, for his “unfailing” assistance in conducting research in the Wright papers. And he acknowledged Jeffrey Flannery, head of the Library’s Manuscript Reading Room, for ensuring that the papers are properly maintained and insisting on adherence to strict rules for their use.
Tise’s fascination with the Wright brothers dates back to a childhood visit to Kitty Hawk in the 1950s. A native of Winston-Salem, Tise was about as far away from the famous North Carolina landmark as residents of the nation’s capital are from the Outer Banks. But all that changed one summer when Tise visited the famous site and acquired a copy of “The Wright Brothers,” a biography by Fred C. Kelly first published in 1943.
The rest is history for Tise, the author of more than 50 articles and numerous books on a variety of historical subjects.