Off this earth and to the moon?

Trip Start Mar 23, 2009
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Trip End Jul 23, 2009


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Flag of United States  , North Carolina
Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The birth of flight (so they say), for me this was the main reason for coming over to the outer banks, to experience the place where Wilbur and Orville first managed a controlled powered flight and recorded that fact.

We camped near Elizabeth City on the mainland for an easy drive to Kitty Hawk on the banks, a journey impossible for the Wright brothers as there was no bridge and they had to sail from the then busy port of Elizabeth City to the place picked for their flight experiments due to a pretty constant wind. They took all materials and provisions with them and set up their camp on Kill Devil Hills, this is now a national park: http://www.nps.gov/wrbr/index.htm

The four year story of these two brothers from Dayton Ohio in their ambition to master powered flight is well documented and you can find many pages by "Googleing" so here's my take on a day out to visit the site.

Our journey was about 50 miles which included the bridge of about 3 miles in length to cross to the outer banks. The town of Kitty Hawk is now very much a tourist town, echoes of Blackpool mixed with fishing villages of Cornwall, a couple of RV campsites, many many hotels and motels and a great mixture of cottages and condo's nearly all of which were for rent. Vastly different from the dozen or so homes that were here when Orville and Wilbur arrived, they came out here to experiment on controlling flight. They built a shelter and workshop for living in and creating their craft. Back in Dayton Ohio they had been quite successful in setting up a printing press and then a bicycle shop but the business of flight was their combined dream.

First stop for us though was the visitors information centre as we intend to eventually travel the length of the outer banks. Just behind this centre is a memorial commemorating 100 years of flight and even more interesting to find that one of these flight milestones took place during the month and year of my birth (check the pictures).

Just on through Kitty Hawk we arrived at the Wright Brothers National Memorial Park on Kill Devil Hills, the place they had been advised as having some of the most consistent winds in the country and long stretches of soft level sand, essential for landing. First off they experimented with gliders from the hilltop in order to learn how to control flight. Atop of this hill is now the stone monument that commemorates the hundreds of glider flights they did preceding that first powered flight.  At their time this was just a sand dune and climbing up it's hard to imagine these two out here on their own day after day gliding down, trekking back up recording results, repairing and repeating it all over again and again until they pretty well wrote the manual of how to fly. I looked down trying to imagine it all, easy now, I did try hang gliding in the mid 70's and a few years ago a tandem flight paragliding all on well tried and tested equipment, back then the skies were the sole preserve of birds. From the top of this hill you can look north to see replicas of those first buildings used by the brothers and the path of their powered flight, looking south there is the sculpture depicting the scene of that first flight. The sculpture is a life size artwork, Orville as pilot, Wilbur having just let go after steadying the wing and then just five witnesses including the photographer, John Daniels, from the lifesaving station - he had never taken a photograph before and that nor even seen a camera, his first press of the shutter recorded the event for the world.

We wandered over to this sculpture again trying to imagine being back in time - not too easy when there are people all around having driven down possibly after a flight in a modern jet from another country, slightly further than that first 12 second 120 feet flight. By the end of that day they had achieved four flights, the last being a grand length of 852 feet in 59 seconds. This opened up Pandora's box - flight developed quickly especially with the impetus of two world wars and within only 66 years we had put a man on the moon (or so we are told).

In the visitor's centre they have replicas of the glider and the flyer (the actual one broke up on that last flight, however it is restored and now in the Smithsonian, Washington DC). To achieve powered flight they even had to build their own engine as none was available light enough with enough power. We listened to a very informative talk about the brothers time at Kill Devil Hills and yet again I found myself drifting back in time (Betsy thought I was falling asleep!).

We had to go, they close at 5pm and we had only been here for the last 5 hours - think they must have experimented with time travel too and you can still loose time easily in this place.

We finished off our first day on the banks with a quick visit to a sand dune: Jockey Ridge Park http://www.jockeysridgestatepark.com/ rather fitting that there is a hang gliding school here.
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Where I stayed
North River Campground

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