The Wright Brothers Memorial

Kitty Hawk, N. C., on the Outer Banks is synonymous with the start of modern aviation. Today the Wright Brothers’ National Memorial, actually in the township of Kill Devil Hills, includes the Wright Brothers’ Memorial on top of Big Kill Devil Hill, where the brothers launched their gliders over several years of experimentation, and the track below the hill where they made the first flights of a manned, heavier-than-air aircraft. Marking stones show where those first flights landed. The site also includes replicas of the two small buildings on the site at the time. The Wrights used one as a hanger for their aircraft and lived in the other. It also includes a small playground behind the hill with a full-size metal replica of the Wright Flier that children and adults can climb and pose on.

Unfortunately, the headquarters building, built in the 1960s, is closed for extensive renovations. It houses the museum, which displays an extensive collection of artifacts from the years the Wrights worked there, which are temporarily unavailable to the public. The official schedule says this will take 18 months, but it may take two years. Given the entry fee, which has not been reduced, families may find it too expensive without the museum. Of course, if the party includes someone with a lifetime National Parks pass, available to citizens over 62 years old and those with disabilities, the entire party can enter without charge. So, bring the grandparents.

022517 Replica barn & office, Wright Bros Memorial

If you are planning to see the Monument, time your visit to attend the daily presentation at 11:00 in front of the replica buildings (see photo above). The ranger covers details of the history, including the series of innovations the Wrights built into their flier that made it successful, such as the first aluminum engine, and basic design realizations. One of those was that all the other pioneer fliers crashed because they were focused on getting into the air, not on staying up there once they achieved lift-off. That, they realized, was mostly a matter of balance, like riding a bicycle. As bicycle mechanics they knew a lot about that. This is not to be missed and is well worth the half day.

Then climb Big Kill Devil Hill and see the monument, where Orville Wright and Amelia Earhart sat side by side at the dedication, the only time the United States has dedicated a monument for a living individual. The crest of the hill is the tallest spot in the area, providing an excellent view (see photo below, which is looking east to the Atlantic). Be sure to stop on the way up to read the signs with historical information and period photos. Take a close look at the photo of the three men carrying a Wright glider up the hill, and see if you notice something interesting.

Finally, either walk or drive around to the playground to see the metal replica. Even without the museum, it is worth the visit.

022517 Panorama looking East from Big Kill Devil Hill, Wright Bros Memorial

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