National Park Units

Wright Brothers National Memorial: Testament to Ingenuity

Five years ago we were in Kitty Hawk to run the Flying Pirate Half Marathon, a scenic 13.1 mile run that went through the heart of Wright Brothers National Memorial. Wow does time ever fly! Appropriate since this is the home of flight… From this windswept location, these famous brothers brought their tenacity and ingenuity to solve the puzzle of getting a motorized craft airborne.

About Wright Brothers National Memorial

Located in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, this location was initially established in 1927 as Kill Devil Hill National Monument and re-designated in 1953 as the Wright Brothers National Memorial. It commemorates the history of flight at the site where the Wright Brothers launched the first successful motorized flight.

They went to Kitty Hawk in 1900 to begin their experiments – starting by flying a glider so they could master the art of flying. They chose this area because of it’s consistent high winds, soft sand and high dunes. Kill Devil Hills (named for a local rum that was said to be able to “kill the devil”) offered a group of high dunes – the highest was 100 feet tall – from which they could launch their glider.

This isolated area on the outer banks (OBX) gave them a large area without any obstructions and lots of soft sand to land in (they did this a lot!) In fact, they launched their hand built crafts over 1000 times over the course of 3 years – each time learning more about aeronautics and improving their design.

Finally, in 1903 they felt they were ready to attach an engine – also of their own design. December 17, 1903 marked the day of their first successful motorized flights – four in all – the longest 852 feet in 59 seconds!

What to do at Wright Brothers National Memorial

At the Wright Brothers National Memorial you can walk along the path of their flights, where boulders with placards mark the distance of each of the flights. The first one stayed aloft 12 seconds and travelled 120 feet; the second lasted 12 seconds and went 170 feet; the third was 15 seconds and went 200 feet; and the last one 59 seconds and 852 feet.

There is a path up to the top of the hill at the beginning of the run way, from where they would have launched their flights. It is a pretty good climb. You can just picture them having to haul their contraption back up to the top of this hill after each test flight. Fortunately they had the help of the local townspeople!

There is a really nice memorial at the top and a really fun sculpture at the bottom with a life size replica of their plane, built of stainless steel and weighing some 10,000 pounds!

Watching it’s “takeoff” are camera men, frozen in time. You can just picture the excitement of being there. It’s also a fun photo op.

Indoor parts of the memorial include a visitor center and the first flight centennial pavilion where you can learn more about the flights and see reproductions of the glider and flying machine. You can also visit a reconstructed hangar and the Wright Brothers living quarters and workshop.

Experience Flight: Fly a Kite

One of the really fun things to do while you are there is to experiment with flight yourself – fly a kite. There are tons of kite stores all over the Outer Banks and wide open beaches to fly them on. You can really see why the Wright Brothers selected this location and you can get a feeling for how challenging flight really is.

You can even experiment with flight from your very own home… try building and flying a kite in your back yard! There are a ton of educational materials available on the park website… appropriate for all ages!

Just because you can’t visit the park right now doesn’t mean you can’t experience it. Celebrate National Park Week with Orville and Wilbur Wright!

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