On the cold winter morning of December 17, 1903, two brothers from Ohio made history and changed the world forever in just twelve seconds when they accomplished the dream humans had for centuries, taking to the air on a lonely stretch of the North Carolina coast.
Orville and Wilbur Wright were entrepreneurs from Dayton, Ohio who were involved in many business opportunities, from newspaper publishing to building bicycles, but nothing held their interest like the quest for flight. For years they had tinkered with models of gliders, experimented with homemade wind tunnels, and worked on designs for a flying machine.
After years of trial and error back home, the brothers came to a place called Kitty Hawk, on the Outer Banks to experiment with and perfect their inventions, and it was there that it all came together when Orville climbed aboard their crude airplane and lifted off the ground. That first powered flight lasted only seconds and covered just over 100 feet, but it didn’t matter. They had done it! Man had conquered the air.
The brothers took turns flying three more times that day, increasing their distance with each flight. Wilbur’s second flight, the last of the day, was an impressive 852 feet in 59 seconds. “They have done it! Damned if they ain’t flew!” Those words, from an excited witness to the flight, were worth all of the skepticism and ridicule the brothers had received, all of the setbacks and disappointments they had endured over the years as they struggled to perfect their flying machines, and all of their hard work. Their shared vision had become reality.
Although the town of Kitty Hawk is always associated with the Wright brothers, most of their flying experiments took place about four miles to the south at Kill Devil Hills. Today the Wright Brothers National Memorial at Kill Devil Hill, the site of that first historic flight, honors the visionary brothers with displays that include exact replicas of the glider they had flown the previous year, and of their Wright Flyer, with its forty-foot wingspan and twelve horsepower four-cylinder engine.
After a stop at the Visitor Center to learn about the Wright Brothers and to see the replica aircraft, visitors can walk down a paved path past replicas of the two buildings where the brothers lived and worked while at Kitty Hawk to a granite boulder that marks the liftoff point for those first historic flights. The soft sand prevented launching with conventional wheels, so the Wright Flyer was placed on a sixty foot long monorail with its landing skids resting on a wheeled track. Once the engine started, the Flyer was released and slid down the rail until it gained enough speed to lift off. Markers along the flight path denote the landing spots for each of those first four flights.
The previous year the brothers had made hundreds of glider flights from Kill Devil Hill, and a walkway leads to the top, where a sixty-foot tall monument honors the Wright Brothers and what they accomplished there. Nearby, a life-sized sculpture recreates the historic first flight.
While we take flight for granted in today’s world, it is interesting to go back in time to where it all began and learn about the long road the brothers took to finally achieve their goal. A visit to the Wright Brothers National Memorial should be a must stop for anyone exploring the Outer Banks. The memorial is located at the town of Kill Devil Hills, between Kitty Hawk and Nag’s Head on U.S. Highway 158.
The Wright Brothers National Memorial is open seven days a week, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The only day the park is closed is Christmas Day, December 25. For information, call (252) 473-2111 or visit the memorial’s website at www.nps.gov/wrbr.
Thought For The Day – Studies show that, on average, humans kept in cubicles live just as long as free-range humans.
In that first flight picture? The guys running along & operating the camera were from the Lifesaving station, in 12 years they will be part of the Coast Guard. That is (sort of) the start of Coast Guard aviation!
I’ve seen a replica of the Wright Brothers first flyer several places besides the monument in NC, I have not yet made it to the Smithsonian to see the actual aircraft. Someday!