Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Finally, Kitty Hawk. My Wright Brother's pilgrimages conclude.

Inspired after reading David McCullough's "The Wright Brothers", I have visited several significant Wright Brother's sites including :
  • Huffman Prairie - site near Dayton where the brother's tested their planes starting in 1904
And on a recent Smithsonian Bus Tour

  • The 1903 Flyer at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington DC
  • Fort Meyer, Virginia - site of the Wright's demonstration to the US Army in 1908
  • College Park Airport in Maryland - oldest airport in world. Began with the Wright's teaching Army officers to fly.

As you can see, there is a glaring omission from my Wright pilgrimages.  And it is even more embarrassing as that I've lived within a four hour drive of the Outer Banks for 16 years.

Two days ago, I finally visited Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

The National Park Service has carefully maintained the site of the first flights.  The park consists of several areas worth visiting.

Memorial from West looking East

Note:  Click photos to see them much larger.

We began by climbing Kill Devil Hill up to the Wright Brother's Memorial.  Kill Devil Hill was the sand dune the Wrights launched many of their gliders from before 1903.  The hill has been stabilized by planting grass on it, so that the monument tower could be built.  It was dedicated in 1932.

One side of the Memorial Tower

During the Centennial of Flight ceremonies in 2003, the State of North Carolina donated an interactive art display.

The sculpture gives an excellent idea of that moment in time just prior to the launch of the first successful powered flight that December morning in 1903.  It is located adjacent to Kill Devil Hill, and is not at the site of the original takeoff.  It has a replica of the Flyer, and statues of the brothers and the five men who helped them that day.

Panorama of the sculpture

The Flyer from the front

Orville starts his take of with Wilbur running along side.

Members of the lifeguard station.  Assistants and witnesses to history being made.

One especially interesting part of the sculpture is the statue of John T. Daniels.

Daniels was a lifesaver from the Kitty Hawk life saving station. The life savers had been volunteer helpers on each of the Wrights visits to Kitty Hawk to test their gliders.  

On the morning of December 17th, a flag erected by the brothers signaled the life savers they would be flying that day and needed their help.  Five men responded, three life savers, a nearby dairy farmer and an 18 year old boy who just happened by.

Daniels was assigned to take a photo using the Wright's camera, should the airplane leave the ground.  He had never taken a photograph before.

You've seen his first photograph many times.

Here is the sculpture of Daniels and the Flyer together.

My own photo of the Flyer from near Daniel's point of view.
Imagine the stories these young men had to tell their grandchildren.

However the main part of any visit to Kitty Hawk has to be to the flight line.  This panorama is looking down from the top of Kill Devil Hill to the flight line.

At the flight line, there is a reproduction of the takeoff rail the Wright's used, and a rock to indicate the takeoff point.

Other rocks in the distance, mark the locations of the four landings on December 17th.

There is one for 120 feet (30 meters), 175 feet (53 m) and 200 feet (61 m).  One final one, way in the distance in this photo, is at the 852 feet mark the plane reached after 59 seconds in the air.  While carrying the Flyer back to the starting point, a heavy gust of wind flipped it over, damaging it severely. It never flew again; having done its job and proven that manned flight of a heavier than air craft was possible.

Couple other interesting things about Kitty Hawk.  There are reproductions of the shed the Wright's built to house themselves and another to act as a workshop and hanger.

And for pilots wishing visit the site to honor the Wright's, there is a 3000 found airstrip open to the public.

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