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John Travolta, John Glenn Discuss First in Flight

Aired December 17, 2002 - 10:32   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN SPACE CORRESPONDENT: What I should tell you is ninety nine years, almost to the moment, ago, the first of those four flights occurred. It was 10:35 a.m., Eastern Time. And the first flight was only 12 seconds long. There were three others, the longest of which was 59 seconds. Wilbur flew at the end of the day, promptly crashed it into a sand dune, and that was the end of the day, but what a day it was.
I'm curious, John Travolta, first of all, when you look at that craft, it looks like a glorified kite, really. I mean, they really took tremendous risks, didn't they?

JOHN TRAVOLTA, ACTOR, PILOT: Well, they did. But there have been some earlier samples of things that were kite-like apparatuses that I think they were on to it, by the time they got there. That's just my kind of speculation on it. But you know, I think they were interesting.

O'BRIEN: When you see that and right in the shadow of the 1903 Wright Flier, "Friendship Seven," the craft that you took as the first American...

JOHN GLENN, PIONEER ASTRONAUT: Well, you know, that's what impresses me, every time I come here and see this thing is how fast aviation advanced beyond the Wright Brothers. If you think it was only about 15 years until they were dogfighting over France in World War I, it was only about 63 -- well, years until Neil Armstrong landed on the moon. What an amazing progress they kicked off.

O'BRIEN: When talk about that amazing progress in that heady time, you get the sense it's plateaued a little bit?

TRAVOLTA: Well, I'd rather ask you -- have him ask you that question.

GLENN: Peaks and valleys. You know, broadcasting, you go through peaks and valleys of good times, bad times...

O'BRIEN: Plenty of balance.

GLENN: ... the same thing in aviation. We had some of the airlines going through a bum time right now, of course. You know, it's...

TRAVOLTA: ... it's hard to compete with a century.

GLENN: ... but it'll go on. It'll go on. TRAVOLTA: Let's face it, though, it's hard to compete with this last century, I mean, in advancements. I mean, look at the Concorde, as far as airline travel, is already almost 30 years old, and that's as far as we've advanced, but the whole century is very hard to compete with. It's a brilliant time, and that's what was so exciting about today. We're celebrating 100 years, almost, of outstanding accomplishments in this field.

GLENN: That's true. It was amazing.

TRAVOLTA: And you were a major part of it.

GLENN: It was an amazing century.

O'BRIEN: Yes, it's interesting to see the types of individuals that aviation brings together.

GLENN: Well, John speaks with a great interest in this, too. He flies his own airplane, has a 707, has -- probably -- what do you have, 5,000 hours or so?


GLENN: That's very, very good. And Miles would like to go into space himself. I know that..

O'BRIEN: Well, you know that, yes.

TRAVOLTA: You know, part of the purpose of today was to motivate the next generation and get their interests up in aviation.

O'BRIEN: I was hoping they were going to announce my flight, but that's another -- Now, let me -- I -- a little hangar talk here. There's a rather famous story about you losing two engines right above Washington.

TRAVOLTA: No, it wasn't...

O'BRIEN: Tell the story.

TRAVOLTA: ... it was electric.

O'BRIEN: All right, tell me.

TRAVOLTA: I lost my electric system and access to the backup. And I found a hole in the sky and circled around the bottom, to the tops of the clouds -- bottoms of the clouds and found National Airport.

O'BRIEN: So you always had power the whole time.

TRAVOLTA: I always had power -- Rolls Royce power.

O'BRIEN: OK. Kind of a harrowing moment, but...

TRAVOLTA: It was, but that's where training. I go to school three, times a year for flight training. So safety is for -- and it's not really a big situation, if you think about it, because...

GLENN: That would be a double failure, though. That's an unusual situation.

O'BRIEN: How about you? What's the moment you recall as the most harrowing moment? Was it that re-entry on Friendship Seven with the heat shield issues?

GLENN: Well, most harrowing is in combat, where you're getting shot at.

O'BRIEN: That would do it.

GLENN: They're after you, at that point. Well, the whole -- the heat shield thing, I guess, on re-entry, that was -- I didn't think I had a loose heat, but they left the retro pack on it, it had to burned off and there were chunks of it then burning, coming back by the window I could see. And so it made -- and I couldn't be sure whether it was the rocket pack or the heat shield, so it was a -- that was a -- I concentrated on that.

O'BRIEN: That will catch your attention, right? You know, an interesting story that most people don't know about when they come into this wonderful museum, I think it's the most popular museum in the world, The '03 Wright Flier didn't get into the Smithsonian collection until 1948 because one of the Smithsonian secretaries, Samuel Pierpoint Langley (ph), had made some attempts to fly, and there was some predisposition to give him credit above and beyond the Wrights. Took a while for the Wrights to get the credit they deserve, didn't it?

GLENN: I didn't know that.

TRAVOLTA: I didn't know, either.

O'BRIEN: It's interesting. I guess what's interesting about it, it's such a typically American story, that two bicycle manufacturers from Dayton would be the ones to put it all together. Does it surprise you in any way?

TRAVOLTA: No, not me, only because there was such a scramble at that time, the race for the air was on, big time. So it really, the innovative thinkers, they could have come from any angle, really, I think.

O'BRIEN: Yes. A lot of people say that the brothers could not have done it individually, that it was the two of them in concert that made it happen.

GLENN: They had some of the mechanical background that served them well in this thing, too...


GLENN: ... that other people didn't have. And they were farsighted enough to put together a little wind tunnel, and they tested various shapes of things in there, see how they worked. They made gliders first, and they made the powered flight, and away we went from there.

O'BRIEN: All right. Daryn and Leon, you want to chime in? That is a good point.

KAGAN: Absolutely.

O'BRIEN: They did the first wind tunnel...


O'BRIEN: know, one of the many things you don't think about, but they, you know, who knew how to test, right?

HARRIS: Yes. Good. Exactly. Great point.

KAGAN: I have a question, since as you mentioned, or one of the guests mentioned that today is about exciting young people about aviation. If you could share with us, John and Senator Glenn, do you remember, as young people, when that moment was, that first moment when the light bulb went off for you that, you looked up in the sky and said, that's cool, that's what I want to do, I want to go up there?

TRAVOLTA: Well, I lived in the flight path of LaGuardia Field. So every five minutes, an airliner was flying over my house. And I had a secret rule. I had to watch it come into sight and go out of sight, and I did that, religiously, every day, you know, almost every day, all day. And it included all the design, the ability of the aircraft, you know, distance, romance. I mean, you name it, and it was that. And then, finally, I got a chance to fly in one and it hasn't stopped since then. I mean, I haven't been able to wipe the smile off my face all day.

KAGAN: Senator Glenn, when did that light bulb go off for you?

GLENN: You know, my dad took me up, the guy was hopping passengers around a little grass strip in an old Walko (ph) with an open cockpit. And my dad wanted to know if I wanted to go for a ride, and I was only about eight years old. And he and I sat in the back seat of this thing, with the wind blowing, and one strap across both of us. And I suppose it was a 10-, 12-minute flight or something like that, around Cambridge, Ohio.

And I was looking down from up there, that was something. From then on, I wanted to fly and I never thought I'd have money enough. But World War II -- before World War II, they started a civilian pilot training program. And you could not only -- I was in college by then. You could take this and get your private pilot's license and get physics credit for it in college.

TRAVOLTA: Oh, boy.

KAGAN: Great deal. GLENN: And that was too good to miss. And I took that, and it was gone from there on. And then World War II, of course, was in the military.

O'BRIEN: All right, gentlemen and Daryn and Leon. Leon, do you have another question?

HARRIS: Well, I don't know if we got time for it, but I just want to know when these two gentlemen thought the day would come when we'd be able to get on a plane and fly into space, which is what a lot of people are trying to work on. We had to get the way for consumers to actually fly into space, on just an every day basis. When do you guys think that will happen?

TRAVOLTA: Well, there's the hypersonic program that's on and off right now, but that could be in the next 20 years to 25 years?

GLENN: It's a tough problem. There could be something like that. I think you've got -- you have to be a little careful, though it's nice to think everybody is just going to go out to the local airport and go up on a ride into space and all, but you need a little more training. Remember, you're going to free float. Some people are going to be sick. A lot of things you got to think about, before we -- before space flight becomes just a tourist attraction.

O'BRIEN: All right, gentlemen. We'll leave it at that. Thank you very much for joining us on this, the 99th anniversary. By this time, Orville had done his flight. Of course, it only lasted about 12 seconds.

TRAVOLTA: He's right over there.

O'BRIEN: Yes, and he's still there, still flying away. All right, back to you in Atlanta.

HARRIS: Good deal. Thanks, guys.


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