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100 Years of Flight in Kitty Hawk, NC


Kitty Hawk, North Carolina is a small city which probably wouldn’t be as famous had the Wright Brothers not chosen it to be the place they would make history.

According to the website they state that Kitty Hawk, which was once a remote area, has grown into a summer resort area and provides some of the best beach recreation on the North Carolina Coast.

kitty-hawk-Wright-Flyer2When Orville Wright stepped ashore in Kitty Hawk Village in the fall of 1900, he probably already knew that he and his brother were destined to make history as discoverers of flight. After all, they had chosen this remote fishing village on the Outer Banks partly for privacy from prying eyes. Three years later, they would indeed break the bonds of earth for the first time in their heavier than air flying machine.

kitty-hawk-Wright-Flyer5From that moment forward, Kitty Hawk would forever be associated with the Wright Brothers as the birthplace of aviation -although the actual flight took place four miles south from the base of Kill Devil Hill. Today, the once-tiny soundside village is one of the largest townships on the Outer Banks. On the ocean side, thousands of rental homes, restaurants and shops are part of the development that has characterized the northern Outer Banks from Nags Head to Corolla.

kitty-hawk-Wright-Flyer6The date was December 17th, 1903. It is a day that will live in our memories forever. We visited the Wright Brothers National Memorial in 1999 and were told about the plans that were being made for the centennial flight 4 years later. We found out much later that they had actually been designing and building the replica flyer for 18 years. It was exciting to be there and see how excited they were about the upcoming event. Early in 2003 I decided o start looking around for a room in the area.  I finally got a reservation in Jarvisburg. It was a year out and the area was already getting booked up.  Crazy.

kitty-hawk-Wright-Flyer4Finally the time for our trip came and we made our way down from Washington D.C. Traffic wasn’t as bad as we thought it would be, but it was bad enough. Anyway we found our room and got to bed early because we wanted to be there by 7:00 because they said security would be a nightmare. They had a really good bus service setup up to get people to and from Kitty Hawk. It was really well organized.

Anyway, we got there and got our chairs and started waiting and looking at some of the booths they set up. It wasn’t too cold, until it started RAINING!!! I mean raining. It was coming down in buckets. It was pathetic. Of course we weren’t prepared for the rain, so we were all drenched from head to toe. The place was so muddy, it wasn’t even funny. It was up to our ankles. We did get to see the president land in his helicopter and got to see and take some pictures of John Travolta (he was the emcee of the event). That was pretty exciting.

kitty-hawk-Wright-Flyer7The original flight was at 10:32 and they had wanted to recreate it exactly, but it was raining too hard. So they were going to cancel the flight which really made me upset. Here we spent all this time and money to see something that wasn’t going to happen. Plus I was wet and sick already. I was not a happy camper.

We were getting ready to leave about 1:00 (mind you, we had been in the rain since 7:00 that morning) when we decided to go see the actual replica that they were going to try and fly. We actually got to see the pilot that was going to fly it but didn’t get a chance to shake his hand because they said that the rain had stopped enough, and they were going to try and fly it. YEAH!!!

kitty-hawk-Wright-Flyer-1Everyone went back outside and watched as they rolled this huge replica 1903 flyer out of the hanger. They kept checking the wind speed over and over again. Finally they tried to start the engine. It wouldn’t start until the third or fourth try. By this time everyone was holding their breath. Finally it started. They checked air speed again several times and finally he was ready to do it. He started rolling, he got air for about 2 seconds and then it flopped into the mud. Very sad and depressing. They rolled the flyer back into the hanger to check to see if everything was ok, and they might make another attempt.


We knew they probably wouldn’t (especially since it started raining again) so we just left. While we were on the bus on the way back to the parking lot, it came down worse than it had all day. We were glad we left. We got back into the car, changed into warmer clothes and listened to the rest of the events on the radio as we drove to Raleigh to spend the next few days or our vacation.

They never did make another attempt, they only were able to show video of some of the flights they had done earlier in the month. After I was warm again and less mad, I did feel sorry for everyone who worked so hard on the project. I’m sure nobody wanted it to be more successful than them. All in all, I’m glad we were there, but it wasn’t what we were hoping for. Oh well, maybe next century…lol.




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Thanks for the comment guys. It has been a while and I did forget to mention the fact that the Wright Brothers were workers in a bicycle shop which makes their story even more amazing!  As always DrFumblefinger, thanks for the input  

I empathize with your rainy, muddy experience.  That is no fun.  As I recall, Kitty Hawk is also very windy, one of the reasons the Wright brothers chose it.  They knew if they could fly their plane into the wind for some distance, no one could challenge the fact that they had flown a heavier than air machine.

I regard this as one of the greatest stories of the 20th century.  Two creative guys from a bicycle shop in the midwest designed and developed a successful flying machine.  It didn't take a team of engineers or scientists.  Just two guys with the desire to create something new.  A century later and flight is so much a part of our life -- and especially the lives of travelers -- that we can't imagine living without it.  

I also didn't know until I visited Kitty Hawk some time ago that the Wright brothers were compulsive at documenting their experiences.  Back when photographers were rare, they took photos of most everything they tried when they were flying.

They have a copy of the Kitty Hawk flyer at Kitty Hawk, but the original -- the very plane the Wright brothers flew -- is on display at the Air and Space Museum in Washington DC.

Thanks for sharing the experience and bringing back some good memories, Samantha!

Twitter: @DrFumblefinger

"We do not take a trip, a trip takes us".  John Steinbeck, from Travels with Charlie

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