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  • Writer's pictureInger and Jeff Latreille

An Amazing Feat

~Wednesday, May 12, 2021~

Day 332

Ugh! Enough already with this crummy weather. Another dreary, rainy, overcast day and very windy. Not the ideal weather to be sightseeing in, but since it is our last day in the Outer Banks, it will have to do.

Today’s visit has been on Jeff’s must see list ever since he was a little kid and what turned out to be the highlight of our trip to the Outer Banks. The Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kitty Hawk, NC (how fitting that this amazing feat took place in a town called Kitty “Hawk”), commemorates their stunning achievements in teaching us how to fly! Before we walked up to the monument, the visitor center was our first stop. This 9,900 square foot space built in 1960, houses some of the relics the Wright brothers used on their endeavors, as well as a life-size reproduction of the plane that “lit up the world”. The story is truly remarkable and teaches us especially, never to give up and that dreams can come true!

Here’s a brief history…...Brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright

nurtured a vision and a goal to change every skeptic’s mind. The possibility of human flight seemed inconceivable to everyone. Both brothers were intuitive, mechanically inclined, and extremely intelligent. In their 20’s, they opened a bicycle shop which prospered, but left them bored. They became increasingly curious about their predecessor’s unsuccessful attempts to make flight a reality. For 4 years, starting in 1899, they devoted themselves wholeheartedly into making this endeavor of flight, tangible.

Setting up shop at Kill Devil Hills, NC (the sight we are standing on today), they quickly learned 3 key elements to achieve flight….lift (generating upward force), thrust (propelling the plane forward), and control (stabilizing and directing the plane’s flight). Wilbur and Orville chose this spot in the Outer Banks for its isolation, wind and the presence of large sand dunes known as Kill Devil Hills. They first experimented with gliders (flown like kites), and produced wind tunnel simulations. Six hundred glides later, taking turns at the wheel, Wilbur and Orville were satisfied enough to say they had their first working airplane. But now, they needed power, a lightweight engine. Unable to find one, they designed their own. Using their air tunnel data, they designed the first effective airplane propeller, which was one of their most original and crowning scientific achievements.

In 1903, returning to Kill Devil Hills, they were ready for their test flights with the engine. On December 3, at 10:35, the restraining wire was released, and Orville made it 120 feet, staying aloft for 12 seconds. The brothers took turns flying 3 more times that day, increasing their distance each time. Flight #2...175 feet, 12 seconds, Flight #3….200 feet, 15 seconds and Flight #4 with Wilbur at the controls…..852 feet in 59 seconds. We have flight!! Of course there is so much more to the story, so you’ll have to check it out yourself!

Just behind the visitor center, in dedication of the Wright Brother’s achievements, a granite marker was placed at the approximate location of their liftoff spot in 1903. And it wasn’t until 1963, that work was completed on the 3,000 foot airstrip from their liftoff spot, noting the 4 stages of their first flight. On the property, are also the reconstructed buildings of Wilbur and Orville’s hangar/workshop and “cabin” that would have been their shelter and workspace for the many months they spent at Kill Devil Hills, trying to achieve their dream.

Adjacent to the landing strip is Kill Devil Hill…….a 90-foot tall sand dune and a perfect spot for a monument!

Though the sand dune has been stabilized with plants, grass and concrete to halt its westward migration, you’d never know this was a sand dune….it looks simply like a hill. On top is a 60 foot monument that you can walk up to where you see in greater detail, the art-deco inspired design. Architects Rogers and Poor won the design competition in the late 1920’s and the work was completed in 1932. Relief carvings on both sides of the monument resemble wings and what lies before you is the airstrip forementioned. On a sunny, warm day, it still would have given me chills, but today, my chills come from the rainy, cold weather. So we didn’t stay at Kill Devil Hill too long.

Making a stop back to the visitor center, we wanted to peruse the book section where I recognized the author’s name….David McCullough. We didn’t know that he had written a book on the Wright Brothers, let alone it being a National Bestseller….another one to add to our growing collection.

Since we were in the area, we made a quick stop at the Bodie Island Lighthouse. Since the rain was still coming down, all we did was take a quick peek in the small, modest visitor center with not much to see. Tours in the lighthouse were being offered at $10/person and since we’ve already toured several lighthouses, we nixed that idea. Plus $10 seems a little steep since the others were around $2.

Even though we had our rain gear on today, we got pretty wet anyway, since the Wright Brothers tour outside was quite lengthy. We were probably outside for 45 minutes. So all we could think about was a nice hot bowl of chili and cornbread to soothe the soul. Delish!

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