The kids have been waiting and waiting for this day and it was finally here! Ever since we read about them several years ago in the Childhood of Young Americans series there has been tremendous interest in the subject. And we were FINALLY here!!
We made it our very first stop on the Outer Banks (of North Carolina). Our mission here was twofold. Explore all there was to explore about The Brothers and, hang out on the beach. We were so exhausted from all our running around and sightseeing up north that we were really looking forward to being beach bums, if only for a a day or two.
The Wright Brothers, obviously, were the two geniuses responsible for the first manned flight. They had a history of tinkering and inventing as children and then later, as adults of course. After spending some years running their own bicycle shop in Dayton, OH, their curiosity about flight peaked in 1899 when Wilbur began researching aeronautics. Once Wilbur got going Orville was drawn in and together, well, they made history. But of course it wasn't that easy.
They began by building a glider. Once completed, they brought said glider to Kitty Hawk, NC. Why? Well, there are two reasons. One, it's one of the places in the country with strong consistent winds. I know, you're probably thinking Chicago is too, but Chicago doesn't have nice soft expanses of sandy beaches to crash land on (the second reason Kitty Hawk was chosen)...an important feature to consider when you're talking about flying in the air for the first time in human history I suppose.
Imagine if you will, everything below, including the grass, covered with sands, as most of those houses were not there at the turn of the century of course.
Anyway, after many frustrations and failures, the brothers almost gave up! Can you imagine if they had?? But, they didn't. Instead of relying on other's research, they went ahead and did some of their own using the so called 'Wind Tunnel' they designed. This tunnel helped them study a small glider in the air and come up with their own data on which they could rely.
In 1902 they finally had a working glider based on their own data! After more than 400 manned glides off Kill Devil Hill, the hill we were walking to below, they finally had a workable design. The hill, btw, is not in the exact same location it was back when they flew off it. It was a sand dune after all, and by the time the National Park Service declared this area official, it had moved about 400 feet south of where it was when they glided off it! The dune has since been stabilized with grasses so it's not shifting anymore.
On top of that hill is the monument to the brothers of course,
Well, now that the flyer succeeded, it was time to figure out how to power it. Using the data from their wind tunnel they designed their own airplane propeller. This was one of their most original scientific achievements to be sure.
We learned about all this history during a ranger presentation at the visitor's center. After the fairly crowded talk, we went over to talk to him further and he let us IN the display area and let us TOUCH the plane! No, it's not the original one, that one's in DC. Or maybe the glider is, one of them I believe was destroyed beyond repair. Anyway, this is an exact replica, so very interesting to get a hands on feel for it, literally.
Back to the history here, once all the pieces were in place it was time for the brothers to finally test it out. The first attempt to fly however was a no go. Wilbur oversteered, the flyer climbed too steeply and went diving into the sand. Not only did it not work, but the flyer was now in need of repairs. Three days later was THE day.
December 17th, 1903. 10:35AM.
They took off from here,
Piloted by Orville, with Wilbur running by his side, the flyer ascended and flew 120 feet in 12 seconds with a total airspeed of 34 mph.
That day, the brothers took turns flying 3 more times, increasing the distance with each flight. By the fourth flight they had reached 852 feet in 59 seconds!
These markers show us the exact distance they flew each time and where they landed, that last one down there being the last flight of the day.
History was made.
You notice I didn't go into the principles of flight here, it's not my forte. Though by the end of our two days here the older kids certainly had a handle on it. It was, after all, part of their Jr. Ranger activities. And yes, we did come up here twice. First time, like I said, as we drove onto the Outer Banks for the first time. It was SO cold and windy that we decided to wait a few days and come back to do the outdoor portion of the visit. Unfortunately, the bad weather stuck around for almost our entire stay and it was quite freezing the day we were climbed up Kill Devil Hill as well.
One last important thing to see here was the brother's living quarters and glider storage buildings.
Modest to say the least, though this was an improvement on the tents they slept in at first. Yes, these are replicas of course but still very useful to get a good feel of what it was like for them out here. That first one, with the large garage door looking thing, stored the flyer. The second housed the brothers.
Once we wrapped up all there was to see and do here, we picked up our rewards with some very funny and entertaining rangers. There were 3 different kinds of patches and badges to choose from (highly unusual) and the kids all chose the same ones. After hearing me beg the kids to at least get a variety, the ranger let me choose one too. So I got my badge as well! :-)
As we were driving out we got a close up of 'the scene' that momentous day in 1903. If you look carefully you can see Wilbur running by the flyer's side and the photographer snapping his now famous historical picture one the left. There are a couple more men along the back of the flyer as well, though it's tough to spot them here.
Our visit to Kitty Hawk was a TREMENDOUS success!