No trip to the Outer Banks would be complete without a stop at the Wright Brothers National Memorial between Nags Head and Kitty Hawk. The famous aviation pioneers Wilbur and Orville made aeronautical history here on Dec. 17, 1903, by launching the first manned, engine-powered flights in history. The first flight that day made it only 120 feet and lasted all of 12 seconds. By the end of the day, their fourth attempt went 852 feet and lasted 59 seconds. Of course, this was after years of research and experimentation.
The brothers parlayed proceeds and mechanical know-how from their bicycle business in Dayton, Ohio, into improving upon what had theretofore been only manned glider flights without the benefit of an engine to keep on flying. They chose Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, for its windy conditions, soft sand upon which to land (or crash, if you’re the glass-half-empty sort), and relative isolation for the purposes of safety and secrecy.
In addition to the replica glider and flyer on display, we enjoyed reading about the Wright Brothers, the technical aspects of their aircraft, and the principles of flight inside the Visitor Center before heading outside.
On the grounds, markers identify their fllght path, lift-off point and landing points on the four flights that historic day. A 60-foot-tall granite monument erected in 1932 atop the Kill Devil Hill dune commemorates the location from which they practiced flying with hundreds of glider flights. The site also contains replicas of their hangar and combination workshop and living quarters, as well as life-size sculpture of the brothers, their first flyer and witnesses dedicated in 2003.
Being ever so fond of travel and adventure ourselves (but without even a fraction of the Wright brothers’ mechanical aptitude, imagination or patience), we were delighted by this national memorial honoring the birthplace of aviation.