Next Monday, December 17th, marks the 110th Anniversary of Flight when the Wright Brothers skimmed over the sands of the Outer Banks in their “Wright Flyer”. On that cold December morning in 1903, the brothers who owned a bicycle shop in Dayton, Ohio had ventured to Kill Devil Hills in North Carolina. Kill Devil Hills provided isolation, high dunes, strong winds and soft landings. After much research with their earlier gliders and wind tunnel tests, they had designed and built a flyer with a four-cylinder engine and propellers that they hoped was ready for flight. As we all know, the 1903 Wright Flyer was a success and left the ground four separate times that day, twice piloted by Orville and twice piloted by Wilbur.
My son and I visited the exact site of this historic flight this past summer when we were vacationing in the Outer Banks. The Wright Brothers National Memorial is managed by the National Park Service which always provides an excellent educational experience. Below is a guide to what to expect and thing to do if your family wants to learn first hand about the Wright Brothers first flight.
In the visitor center we were able to learn about the Wright Brothers, the 1903 Wright Flyer, and one of the greatest scientific achievements of the 20th century. On display were reproductions of the 1902 Glider, 1903 Flyer (the original is at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum), the Wrights’ first wind tunnel and part of the original engine block from the 1903 flying machine. We were also surprised to see the original flyer cloth from the original 1903 Wright Flyer that Neil Armstrong carried with him over 40 years ago when he stepped on the moon.
First Flight Centennial Pavilion
When we drove up we were really curious about the large bubble-shaped buildings across from the visitor center. Well the Centennial Pavilion is inside the bubble and it houses exhibits dealing with the Outer Banks at the turn of the century, the evolution of aviation and the challenges of flight and NASA sponsored space exhibits.
Down a short path from the visitor center is the reconstructions of the 1903 wooden living quarters and hangar where the Wright brothers conducted their experiments. The living quarters were furnished with items like those the Wrights would have used and the hangar replicates the building where the Wrights stored their 1903 Flyer.
First Flight Boulder and Markers
The site of the historic first flight where the Wright brothers lifted off in the world’s first airplane is marked by the six-ton First Flight Boulder. Numbered markers along the flight path indicate where the world’s first airplane landed after each of its four flights on December 17, 1903.
Wright Brothers Monument and Big Kill Devil Hill
Atop Big Kill Devil Hill is the most magnificent view of the Atlantic Ocean, Albemarie Sound and surrounding scenery. It was on this old sand dune that the Wrights conducted over a 1,000 glider flights and where we were able to visit the 60-foot Wright Monument that commemorates the Wrights achievements in aviation. One tip, make sure you stay on the paved walkways because there is a lot of spiny cacti on the hill.
Airstrip and Pilot’s Booth
The Pilot’s Booth which is adjacent to the 3,000-foot First Flight Airstrip is a great place to visit if you love watching airplanes take off and land. The facility featured a computerized weather briefing system, route planning software, and navigational charts.
December 17, 1903 Sculpture
This life-sized art recreating the first flight scene is amazing. The 10,000 pounds of bronze and stainless steel sculpture is located behind Big Kill Devil Hill. It offers a new perspective to the famous photograph taken by John Daniels. The sculpture is designed to be hands on, so you can explore and climb on the world’s first airplane.
Other Ways to Enjoy the Park
Visitors can bring their own kites and fly them just as Wilbur and Orville did at the turn of the century. If you brought along your bike while vacationing in the Outer Banks, you can ride them along the road at the base of the Wright Monument. When we went over the summer their were several park activities, such as the Park movie and kid’s activities like Being Wright (where kids can fulfill one of the requirements for he Junior Ranger Badge) and Wright Kite where kids can build their own kite. Finally, picnic tables are located near the Pilot’s Booth and on the opposite side of the monument which makes a great place to enjoy lunch with your family and friends.