Saturday, June 2, 2012

Wright Brothers National Memorial: The First Four Flights

I can't begin to describe the feeling I had walking the field of the first flight at Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, at the Wright Brothers National Memorial, and walking in the footsteps of Orville and Wilbur Wright.  You can safely say I have a new respect for them and their achievements.  You can safely say I experienced a shiver down my spine when it hit me that this is the place it all happened.  There are many historical places in the world, but only a fraction of those places actually changed the world.  This is one of them!

A replica of the plane that made the first powered and controlled flight (above).  The original is at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., although one of the original propellers and the motor are here at the visitors center on display. 

The stone in the picture above marks the very spot where the Wright Brothers first flight left the ground (and 2nd, 3rd and 4th flights) December 17, 1903.  The first flight was piloted by Orville Wright, the younger of the two brothers.  His being the first flight lasted 12 seconds, and landed at the spot at the first marker in the below picture.  The second flight and 4th flight that day were piloted by Wilbur, and they are marked by progressively further distance of flight. 

The spot marking the very first flight.  

Your humble blogger stands near the stone marking the very spot the first flight left the ground (see the famous picture below of the first flight leaving the ground, piloted by Orville, with Wilbur running beside to steady the wings).   At the dedication of the national memorial and this stone in 1928, Orville Wright himself (along with his guest Amelia Earhart) stood exactly where I am standing.  Wilbur Wright died in 1912 of Typhoid.  

An overview of the first flight airfield from the monument built on Kill Devil Hill (a stabilized sand dune).  If you look straight down the walkway in the top left you will see it angle slightly to the right and the first four flight stones are visible.  This looked very different in 1903 with no trees or houses to block the wind coming directly at the plane off the Atlantic Ocean.  The grasses were added by the National Park Service to stabilize the sands and preserve the site.  It was 32 degrees on that day and 7 degree wind chill (according to the park ranger).  I don't doubt it. 

Above is a life size stainless steel replica of the first flight, dedicated at the 2003 centennial celebration.  

 A statue of John T. Daniels, who worked at the Kill Devil Hills Life Saving Station (today's Coast Guard) was asked to take a picture with a camera the Wright Brothers set up to capture the flight.  He had never operated a camera before in his life.  After the first flight he was asked by one of the brothers if he got it, he replied that he didn't know because he got caught up in the moment.  When the brothers got back to Dayton, Ohio and developed the film, they found he had indeed captured the moment the plane left the ground (see above).  


  1. Someone asked if the Wright Brothers are buried or entombed in the monument on Kill Devil Hill. The answer is no, they are buried in Woodland Cemetery in Dayton, Ohio, where they are from. Wilbur died in 1912 at age 45. Orville died in 1948 at age 76.

  2. Thanks for sharing the wonderful pictures! We'll be heading down the east coast as our family drives all of Route 1 this summer, and you've tempted us to take a detour to Kill Devil Hills. Looking forward to future posts!

    1. Thanks for stopping by. The detour to the Wright Brothers Memorial is well worth it.

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