First in Flight: Wright Brothers Memorial

by Varune (with Kula), July 2016.


Wright brothers’ first flight [Kill Devil Hills, December 17, 1903]

Man got the idea to fly from birds.  They made gliders and flew from top of hills. The wind glided them down.  Sometimes the gliders crashed.  The aviators got injured, or even died.  It is safer to glide over sand.  To learn gliding, climb up a hill, in a windy place, over a sandy beach.   Somewhere like a beach sand dune…….  That’s what the Wright Brothers did.

Wilbur and Orville Wright are from Dayton, Ohio.  They owned a printing press and a bicycle shop.  They made small inventions when doing their work.  They invented a bigger and better printing press.  They found a way to keep dust out of the bearings in bicycles.

Wright Brothers read a book about Otto Lilienthal.  Otto Lilienthal was an aviator who flew gliders.  Wright Brothers were inspired by Otto Lilienthal’s story and wanted to fly.  They came to North Carolina’s Outer Banks to fly, where there are lot’s of beach sand dunes.  After four winters of hard work, they flew the first powered flight on December 17, 1903.

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Welcome to the Wright Brothers National Memorial

Wright Brothers National Memorial was built to honor the Wright Brothers.   It is located in Kill Devil Hills in North Carolina Outer Banks.  Why not in Kitty Hawk?  Kitty Hawk became known as the place of the first flight because the town of Kill Devil Hills did not exist at the time, and Kitty Hawk was the nearest town.  But, the first flight was flown in Kill Devil Hills!

We visited the Wright Brothers National Memorial in July 2015.  We have visited the Memorial in 2011, but I was too little to remember.  We were visiting the Outer Banks in 2015.  I was glad that I got a second chance to visit the Memorial.  Check out my sister’s post about Outer Banks.

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Walking toward the 60-feet tall monument on top of a 90-feet high sand dune (summer 2015)


Front and back view of the sand dune (2011).  The grass cover protects the dune from wind erosion.

Getting out of the car at the Wright Brothers Memorial, I saw a large grass covered field.  At the far end of the field was a grass covered hill. On top of the hill, was a white colored monument.   We are looking at Kill Devil Hill and the fields in front of it.  This is where Wright Brothers learned to fly.

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Wright Brothers Monument

I walked up the hill.  It was a hot day, and I felt very tired after climbing the hill.  After catching my breath, I looked at the monument up close. It looked taller than 60 feet.  The monument had the Wright Brothers’ names and the verse “IN COMMEMORATION OF THE CONQUEST OF THE AIR.”

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Feeling the wind like I am going to fly

I walked to the edge, and felt like a glider about to take off from the hill.  I could see the ocean.  I felt the strong wind.  Wright Brothers used to take off in their gliders from this hill.

I saw a boulder and four markers on the grass field.  These are the takeoff and landing points of Wright Brothers’ first four flights.

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where they started their flights from

I ran down the hill and reached the boulder first, where they started all their flights from.  They used tracks as runway to takeoff.

My sister beat me to the four landing markers.  The four markers of their landings showed the flight details:

  • 1st flight:   12 seconds, 120-feet, pilot: Orville.
  • 2nd flight: 12 seconds, 175-feet, pilot:Wilbur.
  • 3rd flight:  15 seconds, 175-feet, pilot: Orville.
  • 4th flight: 59 seconds, 852-feet, pilot: Wilbur.

It seems like they kept improving with each flight!

Wilbur Wright came to Kitty Hawk on September 6, 1900.  He travelled in a train from Dayton, Ohio for two days.  Then he travelled in a steamship and a boat to reach the Outer Banks.  I was thinking our six-hour drive to Outer Banks from Charlotte was too long!

Orville Wright joined him on September 28, 1900.  They experimented with their glider.  They wanted to understand how to fly and control.  Sometimes things worked; sometimes they didn’t.  But they learned a lot each day.

They came back in 1901.  They built the two wooden sheds shown in the picture.  They faced many challenges that year.  At one point Wilbur was so frustrated and told Orville “Not within a thousand years would man ever fly.”

They came back again in 1902 and 1903.  They experimented with a wind tunnel.  They worked on new designs.  Wright Brothers understood they need three things to fly: lift, thrust (or propulsion), and control.  They understood that you can not balance a stationary bike.  You need to keep riding to balance.  It is the same thing for an airplane.

Wright Brothers have worked out the lift and control by flying gliders.  Now, they were ready to fit their plane with an engine to power. They were confident coming to Kitty Hawk in 1903.  After trying a few times, they made history on December 17, 1903.

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A model of their plane in the fields of Kill Devil Hills (inside the visitor center)

We went to the visitor center to see the exhibits.  They have full-scale reproductions of the 1902 glider and the 1903 flying machine.  They also have smaller models and some original parts.  They did not have the reconstructed original Wrights Flyer.  That is displayed in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC.  More about that later.

At the back of the hill, there are sculptures of the 1903 flight.  You can drive your car there.  Kids can climb up and play on the flyer.

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We also went to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC and learned more about the Wright Brothers. I saw a model of their bicycle shop, house and the reconstructed original Wrights Flyer.  I also learned to fly a small plane inside a wind tunnel!

Back to Kill Devil Hills.  After visiting the Wright Brothers National Memorial, go to the Jockeys Ridge State Park and fly a kite.  Learn all about lift.  And if the kite is an airplane kite, you can repeat Wright Brothers’ early trials with a glider attached to a rope.

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Flying a kite at Jockeys Ridge State Park in Kill Devil Hills.

No story of Wright Brothers is complete without their hometown in Dayton, Ohio.  I plan to visit there in the future and see their home and the airfield they used to fly after their first flight.

 Tips for Visiting:

  1. Wear comfortable walking shoes.  Bring strollers for kids.
  2. It can be very hot and humid during the day.  Morning or evening may be cooler.
  3. Bring water.
  4. Prepare to spend at least two hours at the Wright Brothers National Memorial (not including Jockeys Ridge State Park).

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