Wright Brothers – Celebration Activities

Articles relating to the celebration activities about the Centennial Anniversary.

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.

Wilbur Slighted

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.

Historical Perspective

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.

Dunbar Was Wright Brothers’ Friend

The library at Wright State is named in honor of Paul Laurence Dunbar. Dunbar was the first African-American to gain national eminence as a poet. Dunbar was a friend of the Wrights and a high school classmate of Orville.

During his short lifetime, he wrote 600 poems, 12 books, 5 novels, and 4 volumes of short poetry, as well as hundreds of newspaper articles and lyrics for musicals. His “Tuskegee Song” is the alma mater of Tuskegee Institute.

Dunbar’s early writings were published on Orville’s printing press.

Dunbar died of tuberculosis in 1906 at the young age of 33. His home today is part of the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park and is located within walking distance of the Wrights’ home.

The Wright State University campus is located adjacent to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. The Wright Brothers memorial is located close by. The memorial overlooks Huffman Field where the Wrights perfected their machines in 1904 and 1905.

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.