Wednesday, June 14, 2017

First in Flight

The motto on the North Carolina license plate motto is:  First in Flight.  I remember first reading that many years ago and thinking something like, "Really?  I thought the Wright Brothers were the first ones to fly an airplane."

Turns out they were and they did -- in North Carolina.

Pam and I took another druve from our campgrounds just inside the southern Virginia border.  Google maps said were only 47 miles from Kill Devil Hills and we took a drive down there.  We not only saw the National Memorial site at Kitty Hawk, but also had a nice lunch and did some shopping.  It made for a very nice middle-of-the-week day trip.

We drove up to the memorial site and found the visitor's center to be under renovation.
The building was built in the 1960's are apparently had a number of leaks that needed to be addressed.

The temporary restrooms and check-in point were well manned with knowledgable people and plenty of merchandise.
 We were more interested the warehouse/buildings that became the workshop and living quarters of Wilbur and Orville Wright.
This is were they parked their plane as it was being built and worked on.  This building also served as their home, where they slept in slings hung from the rafters.
The Park Ranger was telling their story. Though they had a successful bicycle business in Dayton Ohio, they were fascinated by the idea of flying.  Wilbur wrote the Smithsonian Institute in 1899 and inquired about literate on the subject.
Based on the information they received plus their inquisitive and engineering mindset, they developed their own theories of flight.  This is impressive since both young men did not finish high school.  Hard to imagine how they became inquisitive, self-taught scientists.  Clearly a different breed.  They experimented with various gliders and used Octave Chanute's design for a model of their own biplane.  In fact, they contacted him and were friends until his death in 1910.

I found this tidbit particularly interesting since I was born at Chanute AFB, in Rantoul, Illinois.  I don't know why, but I never looked up the significance of that name or why the AFB was named after him.  Now I know.

They picked the Kill Devils Hills area for their research and tests based on information from the U.S. Weather Bureau that described the high hills and good winds.  They visited Kill Devil Hills, NC from their home in Dayton Ohio in 1900.

From that point they regularly returned during the next four years.  They conducted months of testing and learning about glider flying  as they developed their thinking on wing design and mechanics.

Finally, in December 1903, they were ready to fly the plane.  Their first attempt on December 14 did not go too well and some repairs were necessary.  Then, three days later, they got the results they hope for.  They produced powered flight four times.  Adjustments were made after each flight and they knew they were on their way.

The National Memorial grounds are laid out to show the high point of the area where they launched over a thousand glider flights leading up to their first four powered flights.
 This stone marks their first of four flights on December 17, 1903 using a 12 horsepower, 180 pound engine.  They launched it from a single wooden rail. They flipped a coin, shook hands and Wilbur laid down on the craft.  With the noisy engine started, they flew four times that day:
    1. First flight:  lasted 12 seconds, went 120 feet
    2. Second flight:  12 seconds,  175 feet
    3. Third flight:  15 seconds, 200 feet
    4. Fourth flight: 59 seconds, 852 feet
At the other end of the grounds was a memorial on top of the high dune in the area.  Since the Wright Brother's arrival in 1900, the whole area was planted with grass to preserve dunes.  The site was designated for commemoration in 1927 by Calvin Coolidge and it was dedicated in 1932.   

 Orville Wright and Ameila Erhardt attended the dedication of the site.
At the back side of the memorial a bronze series of sculptures is used for a play ground.  It is based on the photograph of the Wright Brother's first powered flights.
They had a small group that day to help.  Less than ten people were there, including Wilbur and Orville.  And three people from the nearby Life Saving Station, one of whom they asked to take the photograph with the camera they set up for the occasion.

After seeing the memorial, we found a great place to have lunch:
Though it was a bit of an overcast day, we enjoyed it.  Our server, Hristina, added to our time there.
We arrived before the lunch crowd rush and had a few minutes to chat with her.  She's a summer worker from Macedonia with a very friendly way and told about her home country and life back there.  She's a graduate student and is in law school and has been coming to the Outer Banks for the last three summers.  

Next on the agenda was a stop at the Outlet Stores.  We don't often find bargins or things that we can't do with out but we did manage to get a new wallet and handbag.  

We also made stops at Starbucks and Walmart before the drive back and it was another great day trip.

Thanks for joining us on the Roadrunner Chronicles!  


  1. Looks like a cool place to visit; we may have to check it out when we head south.

    1. It is definitely worth the trip if you like a little wind and history...

  2. Thank You for the great tour! It is not on my list of places to visit, but I had wondered what it was like. Very nice to see your pics and read what was what. Day trips can be a lot of fun.

    1. It is worth the trip and a unique type of park/memorial. There is a lot of distance between displays so it makes for a nice little hike/walk.

  3. Made my first trip there when we camped with my family in a slide in p/u camper. We stayed in the National Park in Hatteras. Was it windy up on the hill? Has been every time I've ever been there.

    1. If you haven't been back since, you may not recognize the place. Lots of new properties -- the place was OK when we were there but I can see it getting crowded. Yes - lots of wind. The park rangers were handing out free kites to use while you were there and no one had any trouble getting them airborne.

  4. Great tour! We have not been there in some years, but this has brought it all back:)

    1. Hopefully they will have the Visitor's Center redo completed for your return at some point... it was a good stop.

  5. We enjoyed our visit some years ago and noticed the winds. Good pick for getting an aircraft airborne, even if it was only 120 feet.

  6. Great write up on that area. We were there over a decade ago. Time for a revisit:)