On a November night in Paris in 1908, Wilbur Wright addressed a group of French aviation enthusiasts gathered to honor him and his brother, Orville, saying that this honor was really a tribute to "an idea that has always impassioned mankind." With these words, Wilbur Wright recognized what might be called the universal aspiration to fly. This desire to elevate oneself above one's environment--to conquer the ocean of air--can be seen as a perennial struggle evident in nearly every civilization from classical times to the early twentieth century. As Wilbur spoke that night in his typically understated style, he seemed to suggest that, instead of achieving this age-old dream of mankind, he and Orville had been merely participants in an ancient and ongoing human struggle.

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