Wright Brothers – Celebration Activities

Articles relating to the celebration activities about the Centennial Anniversary.

The Wright Brothers’ Centennial Celebration year (2003) is drawing near. The countdown began with the 98th Anniversary celebration held at the Wright Brothers’ Memorial, Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina on December 17, 2001. I was there serving as a park service volunteer. It was a beautiful day with over 400 onlookers in attendance.

The Wright Brothers’ centennial celebration at Kitty Hawk is struggling to overcome a late start in planning and a shortage of funds. The North Carolina First Flight Centennial Commission (FFCC), the state agency overseeing North Carolina’s celebration of the first flight at Kitty Hawk, has contributed to the problem.

The FFCC has been slow in developing detailed, comprehensive planning and has been reluctant to delegate responsibility, authority and provide funding for planning and execution of the event of the century. The event will take place in Dare County, North Carolina at the Wright Brothers’ National Memorial.

Dare County Ill Prepared

The U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission located in Washington, D.C. has announced a yearlong celebration extending overseas and culminating in Dare County, the location of the first flight on December 17, 2003. Unfortunately, Dare County is ill prepared and under funded for the event with only one year remaining before the yearlong celebration begins.

Dare County finds themselves in this crisis situation through no fault of their own. Until just recently, they have been constrained by the FFCC in performing the required necessary planning. At a rancorous meeting of the FFCC on December 17, 2001, Sherry Rollason, Mayor of the town of Kill Devil Hills where the Wright Memorial is located, characterized the issue by proclaiming that the FFCC hasn’t made any progress since 1994. “We need help.”

Some help did come after tense debate at the meeting in the form of a resolution that gives Dare County an endorsement of a calendar of events developed and endorsed by the interconnected towns of Kill Devil Hills, Kitty Hawk, Nags Head, Manteo and Southern Shores.

The vote of the commission members was ten in favor and three against the motion, with some ten members abstaining. The lukewarm result, while approving the resolution, lacked the unanimous support that it should have had to give Dare County the positive support they need to overcome the challenge ahead of them.

It is particularly disappointing that one of those who voted against the motion is the state director of the NC Department of Cultural Resources, who has overall responsibility for the state’s centennial celebration. The FFCC reports to this department.

Insufficient Funds

The approved resolution did not come with any funds or even a proposed budget for Dare County to work with. This leaves Dare County at a severe handicap in developing their detailed implementation plans.

The money problem will not be easily solved. The State of NC has an overall budget deficit which leaves unsettled how many dollars will be allocated to the FFCC to support celebration activities. Further compounding the problem is the manner in which the commission plans to allocate the limited amount of money that they do have.

The commission views their task as one of supporting celebration activities around the whole state. FFCC Co-Chairman, Tom Lambeth, explained at the meeting that 99% of the board’s funding and the population it serves are from outside Dare County.

It is noted here that all of the Wright Brothers’ activities in North Carolina were confined to Dare County. One could argue, that if there is limited funding, the focus of funding should be where the activities of the Wrights actually occurred.

Geneva Perry, granddaughter of Elijah Baum who welcomed Wilbur when he first arrived at Kitty Hawk, did open the issue. She retorted that we don’t expect all the efforts of the commission to be here but we need to equally share in the resources. The main event is going to be here and if it is not what it could and should be visitors are going to go away thinking negatively about our area. “We will bear the brunt of it.”

In an attempt to calm the expected rising storm of criticism, prior to the meeting, Governor Mike Easley appointed Ken Mann of the First Flight Society as co-chairman of the FFCC. The First Flight Society, a private organization, has traditionally sponsored the annual first flight celebration at the Wright Memorial.

Whatever good feeling was created by the appointment didn’t last long. During a discussion of the relevance of some of the past expenditures of the FFCC, Mann’s critical comments so unsettled co-chair Lambeth that he threw his pen on the conference table in frustration.

Preliminary Plans

The preliminary plans for the the week of December 13-16, 2003 at the Wright Memorial are to hold a variety of air shows, static ground displays, and educational programs, as well as a host of exhibits. A 20,000 square foot pavilion on parkland to house the displays and exhibits is on the drawing board to be available by April 2003.

Another group associated with the FFCC known as the First Flight Foundation has been charged with obtaining the funding for the pavilion and other site improvements. They have yet to neither raise the funds nor do they have engineering plans and cost estimates completed for the pavilion. They claim to have some interested sponsors.

Time is drawing short for raising significant funds. They have missed the 2002 budget cycle for charitable contributions for most big companies. Many of the target companies may have already committed their funds to other locations such as the Wright celebration in Dayton. And, it is not a good time to be soliciting for funds, as the aerospace industry and airlines are in a recession.

Fortunately, one big event planned for the celebration at the Wright Brothers’ National Memorial park is funded and on schedule. That is the re-enactment of the Wright Brothers’ historic flight at 10:35 a.m. on December 17th, the time of the first flight.

Dare County is planning a yearlong series of events beginning with torch lighting and  countdown clock beginning January 2002. There is also the possibility of the creation of a centennial park off the site of the Wright Memorial to handle overflow by providing entertainment, additional exhibits and county exposition.

National Park Service

The Park Service handed out a proposed schedule of events at the FFCC meeting, but it contained little detail. The park ranger who had been temporarily detailed from another park site to develop the plan has left because the funding ran out. The job has been given to an existing staff member, but the symbolism of this episode

demonstrates a lack of urgency on the part of the National Park Service at a time where there is a once in a life time opportunity to produce a world-class celebration.

The roof of the Wright memorial exhibition building leaks and must be replaced. The job is behind schedule and had not begun as of December 2001. The repairs will necessitate the closing of the building during most of 2002 and may even stretch into 2003.

This fiasco began a number of years ago when the park service spent near $200,000 on architectural designs for a much needed new center, then let them drop because the current obsolete building was considered a historic building worth preserving.

The window of opportunity is rapidly closing for promoting the celebration to national convention and tour groups. They need to know about times, places and prices.

Other Celebrations

Other major celebrations in North Carolina are planned for Lumberton and Fayetteville in May 2003 Nationally, an Aviation World’s Fair 2003 is planned at the Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport. The Society of Experimental Test Pilots is planning an event for Los Angeles in September 2003.

It now appears that the premier celebration will be in Dayton in July. Dayton’s groups have worked on their plans since 1989. They have raised over half of the $40 million they set as a goal. Madeline Iseli, executive director for the Inventing Flight says the Dayton is clearly the forerunner in terms of preparedness for the centennial.

At exactly 10:35 a.m. on December 17, 2003 an exact reproduction of the original Wright Flyer will take off from the original field before an estimated 50,000 onlookers at the Wright Brothers Memorial on the Outer Banks, NC. President Bush may be one of the spectators. An update on the flight and other activities planned on the centennial anniversary were presented at a press conference at the Memorial on May 9, 2002, by Carolyn McCormick of the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau.

The Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), a private association with 170,000 members, contracted with the National Park Service to organize and conduct the celebration of the five day event 13-17 December.

EAA contracted with the Wright Experience to research, construct and fly an accurate reproduction of the 1903 Wright Flyer. The Wright Experience is a Warrenton, Virginia, Company owned by Ken Hyde. The construction is well underway and in the near future will undergo wind tunnel testing at NASA Langley starting in January.

Prior to the big event, the Flyer will be the centerpiece of a traveling exhibit, “Countdown to Kitty Hawk” in 2003, sponsored by the Ford Motor Company. It will visit at least four cities before its arrival at Kitty Hawk.

The 100th anniversary of the Ford Motor Company is also in 1903. Henry Ford was an admirer of the Wrights although in the early years Ford thought that the Wrights’ secrecy served as barrier to advances in aviation. In 1936, he received Orville’s approval to move the original Wright home on Hawthorn Street and the Wrights’ bicycle shop, where they designed and built the 1903 Flyer, from Dayton, Ohio to Ford’s Greenfield Village in Michigan.

According to Steve Brown, executive vice-president of EAA, the Flyer will be displayed in the center of the 24,000 square feet pavilion on a rotating pedestal bathed in bright lights. Also, inside the pavilion, will be displays and interactive activities for kids including pedal planes, and rockets and kites to make and take.

Microsoft is a sponsor of one the most interesting interactive displays. It is a Wright Flyer simulator with full motion. It will fly just like the real Flyer, requiring the pilots to lie down on the simulator and shift their hips in a saddle to simulate turning the plane. Bill Gates has long admired the Wrights.

The touring pavilion will make its final stop at the Wright memorial for the five-day gala. On the December 17th at 10:30 a.m. the recreation of the original first flight of 120 feet in 12 seconds will take place and in the afternoon at 2:00 p.m. a recreation of the original fourth flight of 852 feet in 59 seconds will occur.

Following both flights there will be flyovers of significant historic airplanes, such as a replica of Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis and the 1928 Ford Tri-Motor.

At noon, General (retired) Charles E. “Chuck” Yeager, the first man to fly faster than the speed of sound (he flew at 700 mph), will fly over the memorial accompanied by the one millionth Young Eagle to fly. His historic flight occurred on October 14, 1947, at 10:30 a.m. at precisely the same time as the historic first flight.

The Young Eagle program is sponsored by EAA. The program provides a flying experience for young people. Since 1992, 770,000 youngsters have flown under the program. The goal is to fly the one-millionth young person at the centennial celebration.

Steve Wright, whose grandfather was Lorin Wright, the brother of Wilbur and Orville, announced that an agreement had been reached to provide a Wright Brothers’ float in this years Rose Bowl on News Years Day Parade. The float will entertain, as well as inform, people around the world about the Wright centennial.

Ms. McCormick announced a million-dollar print and television marketing campaign, including introduction of a new logo for the Wright Celebration on the Outer Banks. The campaign will begin in August of this year and appear in such media as New York Times, Sport Fishing, USA Today, Parade Magazine, Raleigh News and Observer, History Channel and Fox News.

The new logo and use of the Wright Brothers name and likeness is covered by a copyright owned by the Wright Family Fund, a charitable foundation administered by The Roger Richman Agency, Inc. of Beverly Hills, California. The agreement permits the Outer Banks area to use the Wright Brother’s name and likeness in advertising and promotion until December 31, 2013.

Themes include: “100 years after the first flight, ONE-WAY FLIGHT, we’re finally planning the return trip” and “Wilbur & Orville’s First Flight Lasted 12 Seconds. For You, It May Take Days.”

No public parking will be permitted at the memorial park for the main event. Shuttle buses will be provided from designated parking areas and motels and houses. For those flying in with small airplanes, landing sites will be designated in airports as far away as Rocky Mount, NC.

There are other events being planned throughout the year, but are not ready to be announced yet because of a slow start. The planning process now appears to be better organized and an events coordinator is expected to be hired in the near future, which should speed-up the process.

Everyone will need to hope that the weather will be accommodating on December 17, 2003. In 1903, the weather was cold and windy with gusts up to 27 mph.

Ironically a beautiful day with little wind on December 17, 2003, could cause problems in getting the Flyer off the ground.

It happened in 2001 when the anniversary flight of the 1901 glider couldn’t fly because there was absolutely no wind that day. On the Outer Banks that is a rare day, so there is reason for optimism.

The 1902 Wright Glider flew again during the first several days of October 2002. It was 100 years ago that the final configuration of the glider flew the first fully

controlled flight October 8, 1902. It was the critical event that opened the door to man’s ability to fly.

The glider was designed to provide 3-axis control – pitch, roll, and yaw that makes it possible for a pilot to steer an airplane in the direction desired. The ingenious

control system became the basis for the patent granted to the Wright Brothers in 1906.

This time four experienced military pilots flew the glider. Nick Engler invited them. He is the director of the educational nonprofit, Dayton, Ohio based Wright Brothers

Aeroplane Co. Engler built the 112-pound ash and spruce replica glider and organized the event that took place at Jockey’s Ridge State Park. The park is located four

miles south of the Wright Brothers Memorial Park, NC where the actual event originally occurred.

I watched Navy LT. CDR Klas Ohman, an F-18 pilot from the USS Kitty Hawk aircraft carrier and Army Captain Tanya Markow, an Army Apache pilot, do their stuff.

Making the transition from flying modern airplanes to the Wright glider was not an easy task. The controls are entirely different and an unsteady wind added to their

difficulty. Early on, they couldn’t get off the ground and when they did, they had several crash landings that necessitated repairs to the elevator.

On one occasion, a helper who was steadying a wing on launch, wrenched his back and required an ambulance trip to the hospital. On another occasion, the glider

was flipped over by the crosswind. Fortunately, the pilot emerged unhurt.

It wasn’t long before they got the hang of it, enabling them to fly more than 100 flights over a period of five days. Some flights were as long as 200 feet.

It brought home realistically the challenge the Wright Brothers experienced. The brothers flew the glider some 600 times in its final configuration in 1902 and another

1,000 times in 1903. On October 23, 1902, Wilbur flew a record 622.5 feet in 26 seconds.

The Wrights made their third trip to Kitty Hawk in 1902, arriving August 28th.

As a result of their wind tunnel tests, their new glider had a wing span ten feet longer (32 feet) than the previous year’s glider and the cord was two feet shorter (5

foot). The camber of the wings on the 17-foot glider was set at 1:20, providing excellent lift.

A tail was added for the first time as a means to prevent the spins that had occurred the previous year. The tail consisted of two rigidly mounted vertical fins.

They soon found out that the spin problem had not gone away. Orville found out the hard way when on one of his glides, he crashed into a sand dune, demolishing the

glider but somehow emerging unharmed.

At first they blamed it on pilot error. But every so often no matter how careful they were when attempting a turn, the low wing would drop even lower and the glider

would slide into an uncontrolled spinning fall. They gave it the name of “well digging.”

They then turned to the design of the glider. They decided to focus on the tail. They removed one of the two fins, but it made no difference.

Orville solved the problem one night while lying awake in bed after drinking too much coffee. He reasoned that the fixed tail fin was the problem.

In a turn the glider began to fall off to one side because the air pressure on that side of the tail increased. This sets off a sequence of events. The higher wings in the

banking turn increased in speed, resulting in increased lift. The corresponding lower wings slowed down and lost lift.

The pilot would try to counteract the increasing spin by applying positive warp to the lower wings. But this only increased the drag, further slowing the lower wings,

losing more lift. The effect was that the glider corkscrewed around the lower wing as it fell until the wingtip dug into the sand.

On the morning of October 3, Orville suggested to Wilbur that they convert the vertical tail from a fixed vane to a steerable rudder. Orville reasoned that by turning the

rudder in synchronization with warping the wings, the pilot would recover lateral balance and prevent “well digging.”

Wilbur bought the idea and added an improvement. He proposed connecting the rudder wires with those of wing warping so that the operator could control both with a

single movement.

It worked! All of the essentials of the Wright control system were now complete.

Orville wrote home: “Day before yesterday we had a wind of 16 meters per second, or 30-mph, and glided in it without any trouble. That was the highest wind any

gliding machine was ever in, so that now we hold all the records.”

Wilbur once said that the biggest obstacle to human flight was the inability to control a machine in the air. “When this one feature has been worked out, the age of

flying machines will have arrived.” He was prescient; the three-axis control system the brothers conceived is used today in all airplanes, including the space shuttle.

The Wright Brothers’ centennial celebration in North Carolina, although still struggling to overcome a late start in planning and a shortage of funds, is taking shape. There is still much to do. The planners are beginning to pull together an entertaining and an appropriate schedule of events that is expected to draw an estimated 50,000 visitors to the Outer Banks, including President Bush.

The focus of the celebration will center on six-day period in December at the Wright Brothers Memorial Park, Kill Devil Hills, this December (www.outerbanks.org).

Here are the highlights:

Dec. 12: Igniting the Imagination – This day is designed to inspire the next generation of aviators by engaging children of all ages in the power of flight. Highlights include interacting with NASA, interviews with the Wright Family, and Candy Bomber demonstrations. The latter being a recreation of the candy drops during the Berlin Airlift.

Dec. 13-14: Remember the Past, Imagine the Future – This two-day festival will celebrate aviation’s impact over the last century and will feature appearances by historic aviators, exhibits chronicling this history of flights, aircraft and demonstrations.

Dec. 15: Protecting the Home of the Brave – Celebrating the impact of aviation in the military. This day is designed to honor those men and women who developed and flew military aircraft through the years. Highlights include military aircraft dating back to World War I and participation from U.S. military stationed around the world.

Dec. 16: In History’s Footsteps, Celebrating 100 Aviation Pioneers – The N.C. Centennial Commission will hold a ceremony to honor 100 aviation heroes, as selected by the commission. In addition, the historic contributions of these individuals will be examined through film and exhibits.

Dec. 17: 12 Seconds That Changed the World – The Experimental Aircraft Association’s initiative, “Countdown to Kitty Hawk sponsored by the Ford Motor Co.,” culminates with the re-enactment of the first flight by Ken Hyde’s reproduction of the Wright Flyer at 10:35 a.m. The Wright brother’s flew the first heavier-than-air powered flight 100 years ago on this date. The Flyer took-off at 10:35 a.m. and flew 120 feet in 12 seconds. A flyover of 99 additional airplanes will top off the 100th anniversary.

Notice: Lodging on the Outer Banks is rapidly filling up. Some hotels are already full.

Some of other N.C. celebration events include:

April 16-17: Wilbur Wright Birthday Celebration at Jockey’s Ridge State Park, Nags Head and Paper Airplane Contest at the Wright Memorial. (www.outerbanks.org)

May 14-18: Celebration of Flight and Air Show, Municipal Airport, Lumberton. (www.celebrationofflightnc.com)

May 16-26: Festival of Flight, Fayetteville. (www.festivalofflight.org)

May 24-25: “The Thrill of Flying” Military Air Show, Pope Air Force Base, Fayetteville. (www.festivalofflight.org)

June 6-8: Women in Aviation, Rocky Mount-Wilson Airport, Rocky Mount (www.rwiairport.com)

June 13-15: 25th Annual Wright Kite Festival, Wright Brothers Monument, Kill Devil Hills. (www.kittyhawk.com)

July 3: Soaring Society (Gliders) Cross-Country Flight Finale Ceremony – Return to Kitty Hawk: Transcontinental Glider Race, Wright Brothers Monument, Kill Devil Hills. (www.fly2mqi.com)

July 6-9: Re/Max Balloon Celebration, Wright Brothers Monument, Kill Devil Hills. (www.remax.com)

August 19-25: National Aviation Week (Orville Wright’s Birthday is on the 19th), Wright Brothers Monument, Kill Devil Hills. (www.outerbanks.org)

Oct. 10-11: Commemorating the 1902 Wright Brothers Glider Flights, Wright Brothers Monument, Kill Devil Hills. (www.wright-brothers.org)