Wright Brothers – Kitty Hawk 2003 Celebration Events

Articles relating to Kitty Hawk’s celebration activities & events.

Welcome to the 104th anniversary celebration of the worlds first powered flight. A hundred four years ago they used to say that the sky is the limit. Now we are reaching for the stars. As we begin the next century of pilot flight, reaching for the stars will be the greatest challenge for generations to come.

The world has changed from the flight of 1903. Flight has become second nature for hundreds of millions of people. It is almost impossible for us to imagine the world of the Wright brothers. The fundamental principles discovered and developed by the Wright brothers laid the foundation for the first generation of flight and travel from Kitty Hawk to the moon in the lifetime of a human being.

As we watch the milestones slip by, one might say we have a heritage, a legacy of greatness. In a letter to Octave Chanute dated May 13, 1900, Wilbur wrote, “for some years I was afflicted with the belief that fight is possible to man. My disease has increased in severity and I feel that it will soon cost me an increased amount of money, if not my life.”

On the cold windy morning of Dec 17, 1903, the dream came true. Wilbur and Orville Wright made the worlds first successful powered flight in a heavier than air machine.

The Wright brothers began their experiments in Dayton, Ohio, in 1899 with a 5-foot kite they controlled from the ground. They were testing a system of control they called wing-warping.

They would soon realize that the weather conditions in Dayton were not suitable for extensive glider experiments. That year they wrote the National Weather Bureau in Washington, D.C. requesting a list of locations in America where the winds were constant. Kitty Hawk, NC was on that list.

The letter to the Kitty Hawk weather station reached the hands of the local postmaster, William Tate. Tate was the man who brought the Wright brothers to Kitty Hawk.

He wrote a letter right back. In the letter he described that there were no trees or grass, just deep soft sand. There were four giant sand dunes know as Kill Devil Hills. The only way you could get to Kitty Hawk was by sailboat. Not too many people lived here.

So Kitty Hawk offered privacy, secrecy, and isolation. And they would find at Kitty Hawk something they would find no where else — “southern hospitality.”

The hospitality played a very important role behind the Wright brothers’ success. In our flight room auditorium in the main museum over there we have on display a symbol of that outer banks hospitality.

Ladies, it is an 1899 sewing machine. It was ordered from the Sears catalog for $2. Addie Tate, William Tate’s wife, let Wilbur Wright use her sewing machine to sew the cloth covering the wings for the first glider in September 1900. It was not covered with cheap material; it was covered with imported French sateen. The local ladies who live on the outer banks at that time had never seen such high quality cloth in their lives. They stressed concern openly to the Wright brothers why they were they wasting such high quality cloth on a flying machine?

When the brothers were finished with their gliding experiments that year they gave that cloth to Addie Tate and on that same sewing machine she made two dresses for her two girls, Irene (age 3) and Pauline (age 4).

The next year, 1901, when the Wright brothers returned to Kitty Hawk the little girls were running around in their dresses.

I’ve worked here for a long time, but about twenty years ago I did an oral taped issue interview with one of the Tate daughters. I will never forget her. Pauline was 93 years old and her mind was as sharp as a tack. She described those dresses to me completely because her mother also taught her and her sister to sew on the same sewing machine.

I finally asked, “do you still have the dress?” She said, “no honey we wore them out.” The best dresses they ever had in their lives.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the dedication of the Wright Memorial atop of big Kill Devil Hill. It’s a monument dedicated to a commemorative event so significant that it has transcended the boundaries of our universe and will continue to inspire the next generations to achieve the impossible for the duration of life on this earth.

It marks the only spot on this earth that these two fellows would ever find what they were looking for. After all who would ever believe that two high school educated bicycle mechanics from Dayton, Ohio would ever invent the airplane. Yet, it is carved in granite atop of big Kill Devil Hill. The inscription on that monument reads:

“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.”

The monument is a testament to every nature of the human spirit and what the Wright brothers did here that changed the world forever.

Reference: Darrell Collins is the historian for the Wright Brothers National Memorial.

Orville’s birthday was celebrated at the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills on August 29th. I was one of the celebrants.

The all day program featured a number of exhibits and speakers. The two that I found most interesting was Tom Crouch, senior curator, Smithsonian National air and Space Museum, and Ken Hyde, president of the Wright Experience.

Crouch is the author of the “Bishop’s Boys” and co-author of a new book, “The Wright Brothers and the Invention of the Aerial Age.”

His presentation summarized the critical events leading to the invention of the airplane by the Wright Brothers. His remarks were illustrated with slides of original photography taken by the Wrights.

Unfortunately, the effectiveness of the slides was diminished by the inability of the park service to find a way to turn out the lights over the screen. I could barely make out the pictures sitting in the front row. I doubt the people in the back of the room could see them at all.

Also, there was one other event in the same room that generated talking noise during the question and answer period that made it difficult for people to hear. This caused the people in the rear to begin to leave thereby generating more noise. The event took place in the recently constructed temporary pavilion.

Ken Hyde gave a status report on preparations for the planned flight of his reproduction Wright Flyer on December 17th. Four pilots, including Hyde, are now undergoing flight training for the big event. They are learning to fly just as the Wright Brothers did by using gliders. (Picture left to right: Stimson, Ken Hyde, Joe Hardman -park volunteer)

It will be a tough challenge. Wind tunnel tests at Langley confirm that the machine is highly unstable in pitch and has marginal lateral stability.

Hyde’s organization, Wright Experience, has conducted extensive research to assure historical accuracy in the building of their reproduction of the original Wright Flyer. The effort is detailed in a Discovery Channel documentary tentatively scheduled for showing next month.

One of Hyde’s biggest challenges was obtaining the turn-of-the-century muslin fabric used on the wings. It was known as “Pride of the West.” The fabric is no longer available and had to be especially made for the project. They found some textile companies in North and South Carolina who could manufacture the thread and weave the cloth.

Hyde introduced one his associates, Paul Glenshaw, who had searched for old movies of the Wright’s machine in flight. He showed several clips of these including one from a Max Sennett movie.

What I found amazing from viewing these old movies was the great control wing warping gave the Wright machines in flight.

One of the unscheduled highlights of the day was the appearance of Orville. It actually was John Hogan, an intermediate school student from Holy Cross School in Montgomery County, Maryland. He was dressed like Orville, including the moustache.

His parents brought him to the park because he is doing a project for the school on the Wright Brothers and he wanted to be where it “all started.”

Friday, August 19, 2005 was National Aviation Day and Orville Wright’s birthday was celebrated at the Wright Brothers’ National Memorial.

Orville was born in Dayton, Ohio, on August 19, 1871. His birthday was honored by presidential proclamation in 1939 by designating the date as Annual Aviation Day.

The daylong celebration was kicked-off at 10 a.m., in the First Flight Pavilion auditorium by Tom Crouch, Senior Curator of Aeronautics at the Smithsonian Institution. Crouch noted that if Orville were alive today he would be 134 years old. Another member of the family, Katharine, was born on the same day, three years later. The Wright’s younger sister was born on August 19, 1874.

Patrick Reed, acting Superintendent, Outer Banks Group next welcomed the visitors followed by Sherry Rollason, Mayor of Kill Devil Hills.

Rollason, shown here with her grandson, Benjamin and myself, noted that Kill Devil Hills (where the Wright Memorial sits) didn’t exist when the Wright brothers flew here. The city wasn’t incorporated until 1953. The brothers journeyed 4 miles south from the village of Kitty Hawk to the Kill Devil Hills site because there were sand dunes to fly off from and no trees. Also a life saving station was located at Kill Devil Hills whose crew willingly helped the brothers carry the gliders up the sand dunes.

Bill Harris, mayor of Kitty Hawk and the president of the First Flight Society, was the next to great the visitors. Harris is a direct descendent of Elijah Baum, a young boy who first met Wilbur when Wilbur stepped ashore in Kitty Hawk bay and was guided by Elijah to William Tate’s house.

At this point Col. “Red” Smith, past president of the First Flight Society and board member introduced the feature speaker, Col. James M. Holmes, Commander of the 4th Fighter Wing, Seymour Johnson air Force Base, Goldsboro, NC. The base is the home to the F-15E Strike Eagle. He gave brief history of the 4th Fight Wing including Iraq. His talk brought a loud applause from the audience.

Col. Holmes and Tom Crouch then proceeded to cut Orville’s birthday cake. Also in the picture on the left are Park Rangers Fentice Davis and Geneva James.

Following the cake cutting, four F-15s flew in formation flew overhead.

Next, Ken Hyde, President and Founder of the Wright Experience, was introduced by Janette Yoerg, great grand niece of the Wright brothers on the Reuchlin Wright side of the family. Picture shows Ken and myself talking.

Hyde discussed the Wright machines of 1904, 1905 and the return of the Wrights to Kitty Hawk in 1908. Interesting film footage of the Wright machine in flight was shown.

Tom Crouch proceeded to the Flight Room Auditorium (where a reproduction of the Wright Flyer is exhibited) and spoke to another crowd of visitors. Here is a sampling of some of his comments:

Wilbur became interested in the problem of flight when he realized that he was 30 years old and his talents hadn’t been tested yet. At the time he was working in their bicycle shop.

What set Wilbur apart from the others was that he could think in the three dimensions of flight — pitch, yaw, and roll. Others had worked on lift and propulsion. That left roll as the key problem to solve to obtain controlled flight.

They selected Kitty Hawk as their test ground because it was the first rural location on the list of windy sites provided by the weather bureau. A letter from William Tate guaranteeing friendly people helped confirm their decision.

The 1902 replica glider that resides in the Flight Room auditorium behind the Flyer was built under the supervision of Orville at Wright-Patterson Field in Dayton, Ohio

The testing of the 1900 glider at Kitty Hawk was a demonstration of the modern engineering process and that the Wrights were engineers of genius.

Orville and Charles Taylor stopped working on the engine after if produced 12.5 hp because that is all that the calculations showed was needed.

The propellers were wrapped with cloth on a bias to provide additional strength. They were painted silver to make the cloth less noticeable

Additional pictures follow:

Terry Beacham, surfman #2, Kill Devil Hills Life-Saving Station, direct descendent of William Thomas Beacham, serving when Wright brothers were at Kill Devil Hills.

Joe Hardman and members of the First Flight Society man information table.

Darrell Collins, historian, Wright Brothers National Memorial, talking with me.

My wife and I were walking on the beach of Kill Devil Hills, NC last Dec. 17th while enjoying watching an ultralight airplane fly overhead around the Wright Memorial. Little did we know that we would meet the pilot several hours later at a reception celebrating the 101st anniversary of the first flight held at a local hotel sponsored by the First Flight Society.

He turned out to be more than your average ultralight pilot; he had just flown his ultralight all the way to Kill Devil Hills from Venezuela. His name is Omar Contreras and he had flown from Margarita Island, Venezuela, to Kill Devil Hills, stopping along the way in Trinidad, Puerto Rico, Santo Domingo, the Bahamas and Florida.

He said his purpose is to spread goodwill by creating and strengthening partnerships among cities along the way. When he leaves Kill Devil Hills he is heading for New York and then flying across the country to Los Angeles. From Los Angeles he will head south to Mexico and Central America, and then head west to Colombia before returning home. His journey will have covered 11,500 miles.

This isn’t the first time he has made such a journey. Last spring he completed a 13,000-mile adventure through South America visiting over 100 cities in four months.

His ultralight is a Clipper 912S made in France. The plane is capable of 75 mph with an altitude ceiling of 18,000 feet.

His trip is sponsored by variety of businesses and other organizations, including Kitty Hawk Kites on the Outer Banks.

In talking with Omar you could sense the spirit of the Orville and Wilbur. I think they too would have enjoyed Omar’s adventure.

Check out his website. It is in Spanish and English. www.volandoelnorte.com

While attending the Wright Brothers Centennial I met the three guys that must have come the farthest to attend the festivities.

I met them at the Kill Devil Hills post office one morning where I had gone to buy some centennial stamps. I was a little early and there were three other people that were standing in line ahead of me. We got to talking and I found out that they were pilots and had flown all the way from Australia. That began an interesting several hour conversation with Boyd Monro, Fabio Bertin and aircraft owner, John Petit. (Notice the Wright Memorial in the background of the picture).

Their trip home to Australia would take them through JFK-New York, Iceland, Greenland, Scotland, Heathrow-London, Ankara-Turkey, Tehran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Singapore and Bali-Indonesia.

Woloomanata is located in Victoria and once served as a base for Spitfires, the famous British fighter of World War II. It is not a town or city that can be found on a map.

I was impressed that they were flying this distance in a two-engine Piper Navajo. The plane has been modified with 350-hp turbo-charged engines and four blade propellers. They also carry a satellite phone.

All three of the men are veteran pilots and take turns flying the plane.

They said that they had a great time visiting the site where the Wrights flew and were fascinated with the markers noting how far each of the four original flights traveled.