North Carolina and Ohio have been feuding over who deserves the credit for the first sustained, powered flight under control at Kitty Hawk, N.C. on December 17, 1903. The intensity of the debate has been fueled by the planned grand celebration by both states for the 100th anniversary of the first flight in 2003.
North Carolina Honors Famous Event
The commemorative quarters honoring North Carolina were released in March. It featured the famous picture taken by John Daniels of the first flight with the inscription, “First Flight.”
That was close to what North Carolina wanted, but not completely. They wanted the inscription to say, “First in Flight.” The phrase, “First Flight,” does not have the same meaning and impact. It is a more limited description depicting an event, rather than a motto.
There is an interesting sidelight to the North Carolina story. The First Flight design wasn’t everyone’s first choice in N.C. Some of the North Carolina panel members pushed hard to depict the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse as a better choice to represent the state’s image.
Ohio, whose commemorative quarter is due for release next April, submitted a design that also featured the Wright Flyer with the inscription, “Birthplace of Aviation.” The dual depiction of the Wright Flyer on both the states’ coins was part of the running debate over each state’s claim on the Wright Brothers.
The U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, a group that reviews designs of all commemorative coins, disapproved Ohio’s initial proposal and returned it recommending instead a picture of the state bird, a cardinal, perched on buckeye leaves.
Needless to say the people in Ohio were under-whelmed with that result. Ohio’s Governor Bob Taft submitted a counter proposal. The new design featured the Wright Flyer flying in the opposite direction of that depicted on the N.C. Quarter and an astronaut superimposed over an outline of Ohio. The generic astronaut is in recognition of two Ohio natives, Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, and John Glenn, the first American to orbit the earth. The recommended inscription was “Birthplace of Aviation.”
The mint approved the design with one word change. They added the word “Pioneers,” to the inscription. The new inscription reads “Birthplace of Aviation Pioneers.” This design is expected to be approved by U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, who is the final approval authority.
Not everyone in Ohio is happy with this result because Wilbur Wright was born in Millville, Indiana, not Ohio. Unfortunately, Wilbur’s role in inventing the airplane will be ignored.
So, neither state is completely happy, but both got much of what they wanted.
The first flight was the culmination of several years of research and experimentation. The research was primarily conducted in Dayton and the experimentation and the first flight took place at Kitty Hawk, N.C.
The Wrights’ research began four years before their first appearance at Kitty Hawk. Wilbur conceived and successfully tested the concept of wing warping to turn an airplane. He tested the concept by flying a specially rigged biplane kite with a five-foot wingspan in Dayton one year before the initial trip to the outer banks in 1900. The seventeen-foot glider they flew at Kitty Hawk in 1900 confirmed that wing warping worked.
The research to determine the proper camber of the wings to maximize lift was conducted in Dayton during 1901 in a wind tunnel of their design using 200 miniature airfoils of different shapes. Their design choice was confirmed in glider flights during their 1902 trip to Kitty Hawk.
Their one significant design change to the glider while at Kitty Hawk occurred during their 1902 trip. They changed the fixed double tail to a turnable single tail. This was the final piece in the puzzle to effect a smooth turning mechanism for the glider to enable flying under control. Having proved they could fly under control, the next task was to develop a means of propulsion.
The gas engine and the propeller were designed, manufactured and tested in Dayton. The components of the “Flyer” were constructed in Dayton for later assembly at Kitty Hawk. The assembled Flyer was successfully flown at Kitty Hawk on their second try.
Kitty Hawk provided more than wind. The villagers and the life saving crew on Kitty Hawk at the time were critical to the Wrights’ success. The brothers admired their independent spirit and hard work, which was like their own. The Kitty Hawkers were not only friendly to the brothers, they provided help in hauling the glider up and down the dunes along with other activities. The brothers would fly a flag when they were ready to fly, and help would arrive.
John Daniels, a member of the life saving crew, took the now famous picture of the first flight that appears on the N.C. commemorative coin.
Bill Tate’s wife allowed the Wrights to use her sewing machine to sew the sateen wing covering. Bill was instrumental in convincing the Wrights to come to Kitty Hawk.
Except for occasional storms and swarms of mosquitoes, the brothers enjoyed their “vacation” stay on the island.