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The Wright Brothers and logistics . . .

By Mike Rudolph | 08/21/2018 | 2:55 PM

Everybody is familiar with the Wright Brothers and the first powered flight at Kitty Hawk/Kill Devil Hills.  Because of their work over a century ago, today we take for granted that we can fly anywhere in a matter of hours or buy something online and receive it in hours, or a day or two. 

We’ve also become comfortable with the fact that our military can rapidly move thousands of personnel and tons of equipment and supplies anywhere in the world to project power and defend our nation and our national security interests. 

Our strategic mobility capabilities – the logistics that enable us to project and support operations anywhere in the world, on demand, is unmatched.

I recently spent some vacation time on the Outer Banks and had the opportunity to visit the Wright Brothers National Memorial.  Walking the ground there reminded me of how significant Orville and Wilbur’s first flights were over 113 years ago.  The Kill Devil Hill Monument memorializes their achievement with these words:

"In commemoration of the conquest of the air by the brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright conceived by genius achieved by dauntless resolution and unconquerable faith."

Determination and ingenuity are words that possibly don’t do justice to the Wright Brothers and what they achieved on that December day in 1903.  Think about 1903 . . . no smart phones, no computers, no internet, no calculators - just a lot of hard work, perseverance, and out of the box thinking. 

Leading up to their first powered flight, Wilbur and Orville made over 1000 glider flights at Kill Devil Hills to experiment and hone their flying skills while they finished building and testing their new airplane.  They lugged their glider up the Big Kill Devil Hill (about 100’ in elevation) and other dunes, over and over and over in order to work out the nuances of flying and make adjustments before they attempted the first powered flight

That first flight on 17 December 1903 spanned 120 feet and lasted 12 seconds.  They made three other flights that day with the last one covering 852 feet in 59 seconds.  Game changer!

The power of aviation continues to disrupt, change, and improve our logistics and supply chain connected world.  Think about the differences between 1903 and today.  In 1903, local trips took hours and days, regional trips days and weeks, cross-country movement took weeks if not longer, and trans-Atlantic and Pacific movement was measured in weeks and months.  Packaging and transporting cargo was hard work and took a long time.  And forget about tracking a shipment, that is, until after the fact when it didn’t arrive. 

Orville and Wilbur would be amazed by today’s logistics capabilities, especially the use of drones to deliver cargo and resupply on the battlefield which first occurred 108 years to the day after the Wright Brothers’ first flights. 

So what’s the next logistics ‘disrupter’ going to bring us?  How will we respond?  Are we getting closer and closer to the Jetsons, Star Trek, and Star Wars than we could have imagined a decade ago?  Are you ready?

Semper Fidelis




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About Mike Rudolph

Mike Rudolph

Mike Rudolph is a recently retired Marine Colonel with over 30 years of operational experience, proven leadership, and management success in the logistics and supply chain management fields. He is an executive consultant with ROSE Solutions and the Supply Chain Visions family of companies - consultancies that work throughout the government sector. Mike led the Marine Corps Supply Chain and Life Cycle Management Center at Marine Corps Logistics Command - responsible for supply chain and life cycle management of all ground weapon systems, equipment, and reparable components, the depot maintenance program, and equipment prepositioning program. During 2004-2008, he served two tours of duty in Anbar Province, Iraq as the G-4 for Multi-National Force – West, supporting all combat operations and coalition efforts to revitalize Iraqi economic development and stability. Mike's efforts were recognized with the Bronze Star for his first tour and the Legion of Merit for his second. He was widely recognized as a visionary and innovator in the Marine Corps logistics community.


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