Wright Brothers – Celebration Activities

Articles relating to the celebration activities about the Centennial Anniversary.

Trouble At Kitty Hawk

by Dr. Richard Stimson

in Celebration Activities

An estimated 50,000 people will visit the Wright Brothers National Memorial Park at Kitty Hawk to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first free, controlled, and sustained flight in a power-driven, heavier than air machine. Time is growing short and the planning for the event has been slow to take off but is now picking up speed..

The First Flight Centennial Commission (FFCC) and the National Park Service share primary responsibility for planning the affair. The state funded, 28-member commission was established by the General Assembly in 1994 to organize the celebration in North Carolina.

Although the commission has been given almost twice the time the Wright Brothers had to design, build and successfully launch their machine, progress has been slow. That generated considerable concern within the park service that planned to feature a re-enactment of the first flight as the premier event for the anniversary celebration.

Recreation Of First Flight

The plan is to build and fly an exact reproduction of the 1903 Wright Flyer. This is no small task, because no one other than the Wright Brothers has flown the 1903 model Flyer. The job is difficult because the Wrights never did make detailed engineering drawings of the Flyer, including the gas engine. Whatever early blueprints they may have made, were not saved, in part because the brothers were secretive.

Frustrated after three years of inaction from the commission and realizing this task needs as much lead-time as possible, the park service proceeded to award a contract for constructing the Flyer to the Wisconsin-based Experimental Aircraft Association. They in turn subcontracted the task to the Wright Experience, an aircraft restoration firm located in Warrenton, Virginia, owned by Ken Hyde.

The FFCC was not happy by this precipitous action, claiming they were not involved or officially informed of this decision ahead of time.

The good news is that Ken Hyde is on schedule building the Wright Flyer. An added benefit of his work will be that he is researching and documenting how the Wrights went about developing and manufacturing the airplane.

Dare County Frustrated

Now, there is tension between the FFCC and the Dare County (where Kitty Hawk is located) local citizens planning the celebration. Frustrated by the lack of planning and guidance from FFCC, Dare County people unilaterally established their own steering committee headed by Geneva Perry.

Ms. Perry is the granddaughter of Elijah Baum, who as a boy fishing along the banks of Kitty Hawk, first greeted Wilbur when he arrived in 1900. Elijah gave Wilbur directions to William Tates’s house. William Tate had invited the Wrights to do their experiments at Kitty Hawk.

The local people are worried that time is growing short and much planning is required for the celebration activities including support functions such as law enforcement, emergency medical service, fire departments, etc.

Exacerbating the problem is the state budget woes. FFCC’s original biennial budget request of $5.6 has been cut to $785,000 in fiscal year 2001-2002 with a promise of the same amount for next year. The impact of the reduction is that each locality in the state will need to plan and fund their own events.

Update: The Department of Interior and the Omnibus Bill provided by Congress now provides a total of $2,432,000 to fund the weeklong celebration in December. The original request was for $7 million. (3/1903)

Memorial Visitor Center In Disrepair

There is another big problem. This one is caused by the Federal Government and involves the Wright Brother Memorial Visitor’s Center.

The park service originally planned to replace the existing 41-year-old visitor center in time for the centennial celebration with a new structure over twice as large as the existing structure.

The existing center leaks like a sieve whenever it rains. The foam on the 10,000-square-foot roof is cracked and the engineers aren’t sure of what other structural problems exist until the roof is removed. In addition, the building is inadequate for handling crowds, has no auditorium and offers inadequate space for displays.

Out-of-the-blue last year, the Department of Interior (DOI), headquarters for the park service, shot down the replacement idea by deciding that the existing visitor center is a unique structure with its distinctive domed roof and large glass-paneled walls and is worth preserving as an historical landmark.

The decision was driven by the conclusion that the structure is a key work in the emerging “Philadelphia” movement of architecture that focuses on the concept of “expressive modernist architecture.”

The Philadelphia architectural firm of Mitchell & Giurgoia is apparently behind this decision. A group of young architects designed 114 visitors’ centers across the country between 1956 and 1966 under a DOI program known as “Mission 66.”

Whatever the merit of the architecture, the focus of the park is the Wright Brothers, not a building. The existing building distracts from that function.

The new plan is to repair the existing leaky building and possibly build an additional learning center sometime in the future that will, architecturally, be minimal to maintain the prominence of the modernist elements of the existing building.

A contract of over $810,000 has been allocated to repair the roof. The building will be closed during repairs for an unidentified period of time. If past delays on the project are any guide for the future, the building may not be completely ready for the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers’ first flight on Dec. 17, 2003. Update: Roof is now 95% complete. (3/1903)

The current repair includes removal of the existing roof, underlying insulation, vent flashing, vents, acrylic dome skylights and curbs. Once they get the roof open, there may be other problems they will find.

An architectural consultant has already identified many other problems with the building. They include extensive cracking of the eaves, soffits and walls, leaking windows, settling of the concrete slab, electrical wiring that doesn’t meet code, no handicap bathroom facilities, antiquated heating and cooling system, inadequate lighting, no fire detection devices or sprinklers, inadequate lighting and corroded structural steel. $350,000 worth of improvements are on the “to do list.”

Fixing the roof and other renovations doesn’t begin to fix the problem. The building needs to be razed and replaced by a new facility as was originally planned. This is not in the cards at the present time.

Update: A 20,000 square foot pavilion is under construction. It will have a 1,000 seat auditorium and space for high-tech exhibits. It is designed to last five years. Ribbon-cutting is scheduled for May 21. (3/1903)

Will The Weather Cooperate?

If there isn’t enough to worry about, there is concern that the weather conditions may not cooperate to support the premier attraction of the re-enactment of the First Flight on December 17, 2003. December’s weather is unpredictable. The Wrights had trouble with the weather and experienced much delay because of it.

The 1903 Flyer had extremely marginal flight performance. Experts believe that a minimum headwind of 25 mph will be required to enable the Flyer to takeoff. The average flightspeed of the machine in 1903 averaged 31mph over four flights. If the headwind too high, the Flyer may even “fly backwards.”

The re-enactment flight is planned for 10:35 a.m., exactly 100 years to the minute after the Wrights’ famous flight. A repeat performance is planned at 2:30 p.m. Flights are also planned during the week.

If conditions on December 17 don’t allow an actual re-enactment, a film of the re-enactment will be shown.

Now that would really be a downer.

The highlight of the Wright Brother’s Centennial celebration on December 17, 2003 at Kill Devil Hills, N.C., will be a recreation of the first flight of the 1903 Wright Flyer with an exact reproduction of the Flyer.

Ken Hyde Creating Reproduction of Wright Flyer

Ken Hyde, who is building the reproduction, was the featured speaker at the Wright Memorial in Kill Devil Hills on Aviation Day, August 19, 2001. Hyde is attempting to accomplish something that no one else has done. He is creating an exact reproduction of the 1903 machine that can be flown.

Creating an exact duplication is made extra difficult because the Wrights did not leave behind engineering drawings specifying their manufacturing methods or construction details. This reflects their extreme sensitivity to secrecy because they didn’t want others copying their design.

The task has required painstaking research on Hyde’s part to gather sufficient information to permit the reverse engineering of what the Wrights did.

One thing the Wrights did do is take plenty of photographs. Hyde and his people, working in Warrenton, Virginia, have worked backward from the photographs scanned into a computer and enlarged to enhance details to be reproduced.

Hyde commented that he is two months ahead of schedule. He is currently working on the engine and hardware.

He noted that one of his biggest challenges is obtaining the turn-of the-century muslin fabric used on the wings known as “Pride of the West.” The fabric is unavailable and must be manufactured especially for the project.

Once the machine is completed, it will be test-flown in a wind tunnel before it is actually flown. Piloting the machine will be difficult. Even the Wrights had trouble, flying four undulating flight paths that first day, and they had plenty of practice piloting their gliders.

The 1903 Flyer was meant as an experimental machine to test the feasibility of flight and was extremely unstable. Orville and Wilbur were in essence test pilots. Flying it meant lying prone in a cradle that one moved with the hips to “warp” the wings for horizontal control, while at the same time moving a lever with the left hand that controlled the front elevator for pitch control.

Several experienced pilots in California recently crashed the machine while attempting to perform this feat in a simulator of the Flyer.

Hyde plans to conducts test flights at Kill Devil Hills prior to December 17, 2003.

The Flyer will also be exhibited in several cities, including Dayton, prior to December 17, 2003. It will not fly on the tour, however.

Hyde is driven by his vision to rediscover the early history of Aeronautical Engineering. He expressed concern to his audience, attending his presentation on Aviation day, that there is a critical need to capture the knowledge of all those who knew the Wright Brothers before they are gone.

The Wisconsin-based Experimental Aircraft Association is sponsoring Hyde’s work on the 1903 Flyer.

Other Attendees

Rex Peters, President of the First Flight Society, introduced Hyde. Another VIP who was present was Dr. Kathryn Holten, Executive Director of the First Flight Centennial Commission. Dr. Holten is responsible for planning the centennial activities in North Carolina.

My wife and I were also present serving as VIP National Park Service Volunteers for the day. My wife served in the visitor center and I presented two programs during the day as well as other duties.

It has been awhile since Dayton has celebrated her hometown heroes, the Wright Brothers. The last time was 1909, when their homecoming was celebrated with a parade down Main Street. School children in the bleachers were dressed in red, white or blue clothing to form an American flag.

Now they are making up for lost time in a big way by planning a multimillion-dollar flight centennial bash for the Wright Brothers in 2003. They established “Inventing Flight” in 1989 to plan the celebration. Madeline J. Iseli, Inventing Flight’s executive director, heads a team that is putting together a grand affair for Dayton’s most famous citizens that could cost up to $47 million in private and public funds.

Creating a New Park – Deeds Park

The celebration’s main concentration will last 18 days — July 3 through 20, 2003. The hub of the celebration will be at Deeds Point, a park situated on a 12 acre wedge of land facing downtown Dayton at the confluence of the Great Miami and Mad Rivers. Deeds Point and adjoining Kettering Field will serve as the gateway to all “Inventing Flight’s” activities spread throughout the Dayton area.

While at Deeds Point, visitors will be able to avail themselves of exhibits, stage shows, flight simulators and other family entertainment taking place in four large pavilions that celebrate the themes of invention, exploration, communications and imagination. There will be a children’s area full of colorful interactive activities and workshops. Along the river, there will be a nightly spectacular “Wings” show that will take place on floating barges, accompanied by orchestra concerts and fireworks.

A $170,000 stainless steel-and-aluminum version of the Flyer III was recently unveiled in downtown Dayton across from Deeds Point. It has a 40-foot wingspan and includes bronze statues of Wilbur flying the plane and Orville running alongside. The 5,000-pound sculpture is supported on a cantilevered steel base ten-feet above the ground at a 10-degree tilt in order to give the impression of the Flyer in flight.

While the hub of activity will be based at Deeds Point, the celebration radiates out to a series of satellite locations and citywide events, conventions and on-going exhibits happening during the same period. These include the Dayton Air Show, Carillon Historical Park’s Living Heritage Program, The Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park and the United States Air Force Museum.

Air Show

The Annual United States Air and Trade Show at Dayton International Airport will feature an unparalleled program of four days of flying exhibitions and ground display aircraft. The aircraft will represent each era, category and type of flying machine that have contributed to and shaped aviation progress during the first century of manned, powered flight.

Carillon Historical Park

The original 1905 Wright Flyer III will be the main attraction at the Carillon Historical Park. The plane just received a $365,000 restoration. The Wrights’ called this model their first practical airplane and it was the first that could fly circles and figure eight’s. Also on display will be the camera that took the famous picture of the first flight at Kill Devil Hills.

Disney-style parades, street performers, music and stage productions will add entertainment.

Aviation Heritage National Park

The Aviation Heritage National Park consists of The Wright Bicycle Shop, The Paul Laurence Dunbar Home, the Huffman Prairie Airfield and the Wright Memorial.

Wright Bicycle Shop

The Wright Bicycle shop, one of four they had in the area, and the Dunbar Home are located in the same neighborhood several blocks apart. Dunbar, the famous black poet, and Orville Wright were friends and were in the same class in high school. Their once thriving neighborhood has deteriorated over the years. Nearly $4.5 million is being spent recreating the way it was in 1900 by renovating a number of dilapidated buildings in the area.

A new visitor center is being established in the Hoover Block building, one of the renovated buildings. One of the Wrights’ printing shops occupied the second floor.

Just down the street from the bike shop is a vacant lot where the Wright family lived from 1871 to 1914. The city-owned lot has been vacant since 1936 when Henry Ford moved the house to his Greenfield Village Museum at Dearborn, Michigan. An archeological dig is currently underway at the original home site.

Huffman Prairie Airfield

The Huffman Prairie Airfield is where the Wrights continued their flight experiments after 1903. It is the world’s first airport and was used by the brothers to train the first aviators. Over 119 early flyers were taught to fly there. The most famous was “Hap” Arnold who later commanded the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II.

The first time a Wright Airplane has flown at Huffman since 1905 is planned, using a reproduction of the 1911 Wright B Flyer.

Wright Brothers Memorial

The Wright Brothers Memorial stands on Wright Brothers Hill overlooking the Huffman Prairie flying field. Erected in 1904, the shaft and base of the memorial are made of marble quarried near Kitty Hawk, N.C. A new visitor center is being constructed at this site.

Air Force Museum

Another key player in the 100th anniversary celebration will be the U.S. Air Force Museum. The museum is the largest and oldest military aviation museum in the world and is the new home of the National Aviation Hall of Fame. A replica of the first military airplane, the Wright Model A, was purchased by the U.S. Signal Corps in 1909 and is one of the important exhibits. The museum plans to finish a new, hanger-like 190,000-square foot gallery, in time for the celebration.

One of the unique events the museum will sponsor for the celebration is an attempt of a world record rally of 10 to 20 blimps.

The National Aviation Hall of Fame housed at the museum will host a reunion of all living inductees in an appropriately named “Heroes of Flight Homecoming.” Some 30 surviving inductees are expected to attend and be honored.

The Wrights’ Home

Hawthorn Hill, the Wright’s home beginning in 1914 until Orville’s death in 1948, located in the City of Oakwood outside of Dayton, will be open to the public four times during the next three years. The home is owned by the NCR Corporation and is rarely opened to the public.

The centennial celebration is expected to draw 3 million visitors. It is the largest affair that the Dayton community has ever orchestrated. They are working hard to make sure that Dayton’s place in aviation history is understood. The Wrights first flew at Kitty Hawk, but they conceived, researched, built and perfected their invention in Dayton.

Dayton’s dream is reflected in their motto: “What if for one spectacular year Dayton was the center of the universe?”

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.