The Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills is a 60-foot tall granite monument to the first
controlled flights of a powered, heavier-than-air aircraft and to Wilbur and Orville Wright, the two
brothers who accomplished these history-altering achievements. The monument sits atop 90-foot hill,
and so rises 150 feet above the Ocean. A marine beacon shines from the top of the monument to guide
mariners along the coast of the Outer Banks. Inscribed at the base of the monument is the following
phrase: "In commemoration of the conquest of the air by the brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright
conceived by genius achieved by dauntless resolution and unconquerable faith."
Captain William H. Kindervater of the Quartermaster Corps was selected to prepare the site for
construction. He planted and fertilized Bermuda grass to secure the sandy foundation on which the
monument was to be built. Construction began in October of 1931 and was completed in November of
the following year. Orville Wright was in attendance for the dedication on November 13th , 1932 as were
approximately 1,000 others who braved the stormy, windy fall day on the Outer Banks. Sadly, Wilbur
had died twenty years earlier in 1912.
The First Flights on the Outer Banks
On December 14th , 1903 Wilbur (who had won the coin toss determining which brother would control
their Wright Flyer I) took off for the first time from a sandy dune on the Outer Banks. This first flight
ended abruptly when the aircraft stalled shortly after takeoff. This first flight lasted only three seconds
and resulted in minor damage to the Flyer. Wilbur would write that this first attempt saw “only partial
success,” but that "the power is ample, and but for a trifling error due to lack of experience with this
machine and this method of starting, the machine would undoubtedly have flown beautifully."
The brothers repaired the damage to their aircraft and waited for another weather window, which
presented itself on December 17th . That day, each brother took off twice into a cold and gusty headwind
and changed the world forever. Orville was the first to fly. He took off at 10:35 am and flew 120 feet in
twelve seconds. The next two flights, by Wilbur and Orville respectively, covered 175 feet and 200 feet.
They each flew about ten feet off the ground.
The brothers must have seen the real potential for the future of manned, powered flight with their final
attempt of the day. Wilbur took off and, after faltering at the beginning with the difficult controls,
managed to fly over 850 feet in about one minute. According to Orville’s account:
“Wilbur started the fourth and last flight at just about 12 o'clock. The first few hundred feet were up and down, as before, but by the time three hundred ft had been covered, the machine was under much
better control. The course for the next four or five hundred feet had but little undulation. However,
when out about eight hundred feet the machine began pitching again, and, in one of its darts
downward, struck the ground. The distance over the ground was measured to be 852 feet; the time of
the flight was 59 seconds. The frame supporting the front rudder was badly broken, but the main part of
the machine was not injured at all. We estimated that the machine could be put in condition for flight
again in about a day or two.” Despite the rough landing, the final flight that day opened the door to the future of aviation.
Fly Over the Wright Brothers National Memorial
OBX Airplanes offers air tours that fly over the monument that commemorates the Wright Brothers and
the location where they made history on that cold, breezy day in 1903. We take off from Dare County
Regional Airport and circle over the Wright Brothers National Memorial before heading north or south
along the beautiful coastline of the Outer Banks. Call us today to book an air tour in one of our Cessna
airplanes or our Waco Biplane and experience the beauty of the OBX from the air.
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As a Certified Flight Instructor on the Outer Banks of North Carolina I am pleased to say that when you fly with me you will be sure to have fun, be safe and learn to fly!