top of page

The Wright Brothers National Memorial and the Land of First Flight

The Wright Brothers National Memorial is located near Kill Devil Hills, Dare County, NC and approximately 3 miles from the town of Kitty Hawk. As a person who loves flying and who many years ago took flying lessons in order to obtain a private pilot’s license, I was greatly interested in visiting this site.

Orville and Wilbur Wright were owners of a successful bicycle shop in Ohio and were flight enthusiasts in the fledgling field of aviation studies. They flew kites, studied the flight of birds and built various models of "vehicles" that they hoped would fly. Looking for a place better suited to try out their inventions, they were invited to test their flying machines in the Kill Devil Hills area as it had a number of positive attributes. A sparsely populated area with large sand dunes from which they could take off. Miles of sandy beaches for soft landings and strong ocean breezes for lift, all contributed to ideal conditions. There was also the added bonus that the locals were positively disposed towards the brothers wherein the people in their hometown of Dayton, Ohio and other large metropolitan areas, were skeptical over the concept of mechanical flight. On December 17, 1903, the Wright brothers managed a short but historic flight of 852 feet and the rest is history.

When visiting North Carolina, the Wright Brothers National Memorial is a must see and well worth the price of admission. Kill Devil Hills is one of the larger towns on the Outer Banks and located just north of Nags Head which was our base of travel. With a population of around 6800, Kill Devil Hills can easily quadruple in size during the busy summer months when tourism is at its yearly peak. The memorial is easy to find as it is well signed and the entrance clearly marked. A stop light on the North Croatan Highway makes entering and exiting the memorial park easy. We arrived by taking the North Virginia Dare Trail and turning onto Prospect Avenue which intersects the highway at the lights and leads directly into the Visitor center.

We paid $10 per adult to get access to the memorial site and the visitor center. That pass was good for seven days. We opted to take advantage of that and returned to the site about six days later to take the free guided tour and spend more time looking around. It was a very interesting and informative visit.

The Visitor’s Center provides exhibits covering the history of flight and the efforts by various experimental aviation notables worldwide, such as George Cayley, Alphonse Penaud and Octave Chanute. It also offered up a life size replica of the successful airplane along with considerable information about the Wright brothers and their families. For those seeking souvenirs, there is a gift shop on site. The building is fully accessible.

If you have any questions, there are park personnel who are happy to respond, and they are both knowledgeable and professional. The free walking tour is provided by a park guide and the one who led our group, started his talk with a discussion about the problems early aviation enthusiasts encountered. He then led his audience into the specific factors and conditions that led the Wright brothers to choose this location to test out their various aircraft.

We learned that the brothers actually had four attempts on that fateful day and our guide soon led us to the First Flight Boulder and explained where the flights took off and where each flight came down. There are four markers delineating each flight. The flights were as follows:

  1. 120 feet in distance over 12 seconds.

  2. 175 feet in distance over 12 seconds.

  3. 200 feet in distance over 15 seconds

  4. 852 feet in distance over 59 seconds

From there we visited the reconstructed 1903 hanger and living quarters/workshop. We learned that following their first unsuccessful season in the area, the Wright brothers opted to come back in the fall in subsequent years when the average temperature was better and there were fewer bugs.

We finished up our tour by going to the Wright Brothers Monument which is located at the top of a giant sand hill/dune and which was the starting point of the flights. For those having trouble walking, you can drive to the base of this hill but there is a short uphill climb once you get there.

At the base of the hill, on the south side, we were delighted to find a sculpture of the aircraft and a recreation of the people who watched those flights (as they appear in a photo taken on that December day).

For those wishing to visit this site, you can either walk along the walkways from point to point or drive and there are picnic tables for those wanting to make a day of it. Nearby, is the First Flight Airstrip where you can watch small planes take off and land.

As always, feel free to add any comments you may have or to contact me if you have any questions.

bottom of page