Dawn Over Kitty Hawk
This year we celebrate 100 years of aviation, from the biplane to the space shuttle. Dawn Over Kitty Hawk is a fitting tribute to the innovators who made it happen. Men tried for eons to conquer the air before the Wrights succeeded. Boyne manages to recapture the awe of that conquest.
He writes with straightforward candor, dividing the narrative among several points of view. His story of Orville and Wilbur Wright covers all the detail with inventive dialog. The brothers’ personalities emerge in opposition to their strict father, Bishop Wright. Their motivation is to fly under power before any of their illustrious competitors. The bishop would prefer his boys find professional careers, or just run the bicycle shop in Dayton.
Dramatizing real people blurs the line between biography and fiction. It doesn’t achieve the artistry of fine literature, but it does humanize a fascinating subject. Orville, a bicycle racer and mechanic, and Wilbur, a mathematical whiz, dreamer and inventor, combine their talents to develop a flying machine. Flight becomes the protagonist as Boyne brings in every other significant contributor with a scene of his own. Octave Chanute shares the Wrights’ data on lift with Augustus Herring and Professor Langley of the Smithsonian. These rivals encroach on the Wrights’ invention. Characters acting badly create conflict and tension and the plot gains momentum.
In the steady winds of Kitty Hawk, 1902, the new wing is “bucking to fly.” It quivers in the guide ropes as the brothers tune up their glider and talk about attaching an engine. Their achievement causes consternation among educated scientists who can’t equal it. Boyne’s expertise in aviation makes a complex subject accessible.