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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Rainfall Ruins Wrights' 100th

KILL DEVIL HILLS, North Carolina -- A bald eagle soared into the sky Wednesday, a symbol of flight, as a poncho-clad crowd cheered the 100th anniversary of man's first powered, heavier-than-air flight.

But a heavy downpour scuttled plans to re-enact the flight 100 years to the minute after the seminal event. President George W. Bush was on hand before the planned attempt to re-enact the Wright brothers' flight -- timed to come exactly a century after the brothers made their first tentative hops through the air with a delicate contraption fashioned in their bicycle shop.

"On the day they did fly, just like today, the conditions were not ideal," Bush told a crowd of about 30,000 at the Wright Brothers National Memorial.

"The Wright brothers hit some disappointments along the way. There must have been times when they had to fight their own doubts," he said. "They pressed on, believing in the great work they had begun and in their own capacity to see it through. We would not know their names today if these men had been pessimists."

If the weather improved, organizers planned to try the re-enactment later Wednesday, the climax of a six-day festival.

Tom Poberezny, president of the Experimental Aircraft Association, the group working with the re-enactment team, said the attempt could come with as little as 20 minutes notice as thunderstorms moved in and out of the area. "If the weather stays clear and the wind picks up, you can anticipate we'll move quickly," he said.

Engineering professor Kevin Kochersberger was to fly the meticulous reproduction of the 1903 Wright Flyer that was built by the nonprofit group the Wright Experience, of Warrenton, Virginia.

There had been speculation that Bush would use the centennial of 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 Bush, told the president, "Not only do I vote for that option, but I volunteer to go on the first mission."

Bush made no commitments on a new space mission, but said of Travolta, "We shall call him 'Moon Man' from now on."

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, delivered the invocation and singer Lee Greenwood performed "The Star-Spangled Banner."

As Greenwood finished the national anthem, a bald eagle was released in the middle of the field to the cheers of the crowd.

Bush did not stay to see the planned re-enactment. As his departing Air Force One passed over the park, it dipped its right wing, as if in salute.

On Dec. 17, 1903, Orville was at the controls for that first hop that lasted all of 12 seconds. He and Wilbur alternated for four flights that day; the last, by Wilbur, lasted 59 seconds and ran for 255.6 meters.

In the century since, travel by airplane has gone from a barnstormer's novelty act to being so routine that it brings more complaints than ruminations on the extraordinary fact that it simply can be done.

In a sad reminder of the technology's perils, a small plane on its way to the flight celebration crashed Wednesday after taking off from a small airport south of Raleigh. The pilot was killed and three passengers were injured. A fifth person walked away. The plane had flown about a kilometer when it banked and crashed, said Captain James Estes of the Lee County Sheriff's Department. The cause of the crash was unknown.

Every day, commercial airlines around the world carry about 3 million people, for many of whom the most remarkable part is the in-flight movie.