They may not have envisioned just how commonplace flight would become — especially if you live in the White House. Mr. Bush breezed down to North Carolina early Wednesday with plans to return to Washington by noon.
"In the future, flight will advance in ways that none of us can imagine as we stand here today," said Mr. Bush, his hair soaked by rain. "Yet always, for as long as there is human flight, we will honor the achievement on a cold morning on the Outer Banks of North Carolina."
Mr. Bush — himself a former National Guard pilot — took one flying machine, a helicopter known as Marine One, from the White House to nearby Andrews Air Force Base; then boarded another, the jumbo Boeing 747 commonly known as Air Force One, for North Carolina; then he was onto another helicopter for the hop to the Outer Banks.
He traveled hundreds of miles aloft for a trip lasting only a few hours, which is not unusual for this president: He has logged nearly 100,000 miles on Air Force One this year alone, White House officials say. Wednesday, he flew into a driving rainstorm here.
More than 168,000 flights take off from America's airports every day, said Interior Secretary Gale Norton.
Pro-space optimists had buzzed for weeks over whether Mr. Bush would use the 100th anniversary of the Wright brothers' flight to announce a new mission to the moon, but the White House made clear the president had no such intentions.
Actor John Travolta, introducing Mr. Bush, told the president, "not only do I vote for that option, but I volunteer to go on the first mission."
Mr. Bush made no commitments on a new space mission, but said of Travolta: "We shall call him moon man from now on."
The Wright Flyer "flew just 12 seconds and 40 yards," Mr. Bush noted. A second flight lasted 59 seconds.
"Yet everyone who was here at that hour sensed that a great line had been crossed and the world might never be the same," said Mr. Bush.
The president's trip was a full-circle return of sorts to the dunes of Kill Devil Hills, N.C., just south of Kitty Hawk, the site of "12 seconds that changed the world."
He traveled aboard one of the world's most recognizable descendants of the Wright Flyer, but left before the re-enactment planned for 10:35 a.m. EST, 100 years to the minute after it occurred.
Some 35,000 people were expected to watch, a far cry from the five local residents who watched the Wright brothers take flight.
Mr. Bush left before the re-enactment because of a busy afternoon schedule at the White House, including policy briefings and holiday receptions, McClellan said. Also the White House worried his presence could distract from the celebration, McClellan said.
Driving rainstorms in the morning threatened to delay the re-enactment, organized by the Experimental Aircraft Association. The association hired retired pilot Ken Hyde to build a precise Wright flyer replica to fly on the centennial.
The flight caps a weeklong festival honoring the Wrights' successful flights of Dec. 17, 1903.
By Scott Lindlaw