The Flying Problem

The brothers had a vision and having a vision is an awkward business.  It excludes you from so much that other people take for granted.  Visions start out by being innocuous and end by being all-consuming.

How innocuous do visions start out?  Well, for the brothers it began when their father brought home a toy helicopter.  Made of paper, bamboo and cork with a rubber band to twirl its rotor, it was about a foot long.  The boys played with it until it broke and then built their own model.

That’s pretty damn innocuous, right?  But it was a slippery slope.

The models they worked on evolved and people got hurt.  The brothers saw it as a mission.  And then they saw it as a business proposition.

The family business was paramount and neither brother would ever marry; lawsuits and patent wars, accidents and deaths, took priority.  But they presented a unified image to the public, sharing equally in the credit and blame.

The brothers understood that progress was due to be made and they would usher it in.  Events and opportunities lodged in their consciousness in a way that seemed beyond their control.  They wrote a letter to the Smithsonian Institution requesting information about the latest innovations.  Once the latest designs and publications were placed in their hands their experiments began in earnest.  Who knew where the experiments would lead?  It was a fascinating and dangerous path.  They stumbled along it, groping for the right direction.

Nothing could dissuade them.  Other experimenters had already forged ahead.  The brothers watched and learned.  They were patient and practical, biding their time.  They were undeterred and unmoved, even when the outcome was tragic.  Lilienthal plunged to his death, yet they insisted on following his lead.  Pilcher crashed and died, but it only reinforced the opinions they already held about how to proceed.

They identified control as the unresolved third part of “the flying problem.”  Sufficiently promising knowledge of the other two issues – wings and engines – already existed, they felt.  With this in mind, they paid careful attention to how birds changed the angle of their wingtips to make their bodies roll right or left.  The brothers decided this would also be the best way for a flying machine to turn – to bank or lean like a bird.

They puzzled over how to achieve the same effect with man-made wings and finally discovered wing-warping when Wilbur absent-mindedly twisted a long inner-tube box at the bicycle shop they owned.  It was the breakthrough they needed.

At Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, they began their manned gliding experiments.  Powered flight was attempted a few years later.  During engine tests at Kill Devil Hills they endured weeks of delays caused by broken propeller shafts.  Following repairs, the brothers finally took to the air on 17th December.  The first flight, by Orville at 10:35 am, achieved an altitude approaching 10 feet above the ground, travelling a total of 120 feet in 12 seconds.

As the rickety airplane stuttered off the ground and went bobbing into the air, a deep rumbling was heard from the swirling clouds that loomed overhead.  “S-i-x… six point eight… miles… per hour,” god managed to force out the words with a bit of a struggle, mid-yawn.

“Pardon me?” the devil frowned.

“Oh, it’s something I always wondered about – the airspeed velocity of a flying monkey.”

“I see, yes,” the devil nodded.  “Although… they will get quicker, you realise.  Much, much quicker,” she smiled.  At that, the devil went on her merry way, her mind aglow with all sorts of appealing prospects: Pablo Picasso smearing paint onto the canvas of Guernica; the extreme cosiness of Dresden on a chilly February night; the gleaming miracle of Enola Gay; a blizzard of drones hailing down.  It tickled her to realise just how much entertainment there was to be had from all these peculiar little visions of flying monkeys.


This story was written in response to the yeah write challenge #174 – This week’s optional prompt is: what is the airspeed velocity of a flying monkey?  The other stories in the link-up can be read by clicking on the image below.


28 thoughts on “The Flying Problem

  1. I have always thought of God as a woman. The Devil, I am sure, is a dog with no gender assigned, and yet you have the devil as female. What do you know that I don’t?

    • Found this story a bit tricky to handle since I wanted to keep it kind of static at the beginning, whereas normally I’d have the characters add movement and chat much earlier.

      With the twist I wanted to square the circle between Darwinians and Creationists – i.e. there is a creator and he/she/it really doesn’t distinguish very much between us and monkeys. That should please everyone! Right…? 🙂

      • Oh, I’m sure the creationists are absolutely tickled by this piece, LOL! So much of human behavior though can be explained by looking at the difference between the chimps and bonobos – it’s really remarkable – we could learn so much by considering their evolutionary stories.

        Did like what you called the “static” opening — it made the punch at the end that much stronger.

  2. When I was working in North Carolina, I visited the Wright Bros museum and all of that. It was so interesting.

    The God/Devil interplay was very smart and well done.

    • I knew nothing about the Wright brothers, really, till I did some quick research for this story. I was amazed to learn that they devised the idea of tilting a plane’s wings like a bird whereas previous aviators had simply attempted to keep the plane completely stable in flight, as if it was a train. It just seems so blindingly obvious – Trying to fly? ok, look at the birds cos they’ve really got a handle on that stuff!

    • I think it’s probably the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain – someone putting on a pretend big voice to seem impressive, who really hasn’t got a clue what’s going on 😉

  3. This is a brilliant response to the prompt! The Devil and her thoughts was my favourite part. After all, who wouldn’t love the Devil as a woman? Especially if she is Jesus’ ex-wife. That explains so much!
    As far as the monkeys go, we may find they’re actually more intelligent than we are.
    Great piece!

    • Hmm I think the New Testament is more or less the record of a particularly messy divorce, with both parties blaming each other and all of it, unfortunately, played out in the press. Of course the journos of the day lapped it up!

  4. Very creative! I like that you made the devil a girl, as it switches up the wide spread vision most of us have in our heads. She’d surely be entertained to know that we’ve broken the sound barrier, and that gravity won’t lock us down on Earth for much longer (the moon being held by Earth’s gravity, I consider that a failure to truly leave Earth, in the gravitational sense anyway).

    • Really? Pheuw you’re a pretty stern judge of the space programme then, hey – “No, I’m sorry NASA but because of the gravitational field originating from Earth I’m simply not prepared to count the moon as genuine space travel. Look, there’s no point crying about it – just send a man to Mars. Come on, raise your game!!” 🙂

      Btw did you post a story to this link-up? I didn’t see one. And after you were explicitly blamed/credited with providing the prompt, too…

  5. Haha yea! I wanna be on that mission. I was planning to post but well… life kinda happened. Basically Summer decided to go crazy this week. I had a great time, but didn’t have any left to write anything I was happy with.
    Ah and I hadn’t even seen that! Haha that is awesome! Thanks for pointing that out.

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