A Long Time Ago in Kittyhawk

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“If Birds Can Fly For Long Periods Of Time, Why Can’t I?” 

– Orville Wright

One Hundred and Twelve years ago today, the single most important aviation milestone was achieved. The wright brothers successfully carried out the first ever manned powered flight.

Orville and Wilbur Wright, bicycle builders from Ohio became obsessed with the idea of flying. They used their prior knowledge from their bike building days and applied it to the idea of flying machines. They were not of course the first to try this, but they were the first to develop a way of controlling aircraft.

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Plaque marking the historic first flight on the marker stone at Kittyhawk.

Between 1900 and 1903 the brothers experimented with glider designs in order to build up to powered flight. They moved to the Kill Devil Halls, in Kittyhawk, North Carolina for these trials. The sandy hills provided the perfect conditions for their experimental flights; by the end of the 1902 they had a very successful glider design.

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One of the buildings where the brothers built the iconic flyer.

After neither brother could decide who would make the first flight a coin was tossed. The decision led to Wilbur carrying out the first attempt on the 14th of December.  Wilbur made a three second flight ending in minor damage to the Flyer on the 14th December, it wasn’t until the 17th December at 10:35am that Orville went into the history books with a 12 second flight covering 120m.

Wilbur and Orville made made subsequent flights that day, travelling 175 and 200 feet respectively.  Wilbur then flew a final flight for the day which came in at an impressive 852 feet and a flight lasting 59 seconds, quite an impressive jump from the initial 12 second flight earlier in the day. A gust caught the aircraft at the end of the final flight causing some minor damage, curtailing further attempts on the day.

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A look back at the length of the first flight.

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A look up at the hill where the first glider tests were flown.

This obviously was one of, it not the most significant event in the history of flight, as it was the birth of flight, I wonder if at the time of those first flights the brothers had any idea what would follow from their design. The original Wright flyer now resides in the National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC.

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A look out at the markers showing the first days flights.

I remember 11 years ago, the 100th anniversary of the first flight my father took me flying in a Piper Colt early in the morning, I remember it so clearly. Headcorn airfield was covered in frost, with a real chill in the air.

As we walked out to the airfield a familiar sound filled the air. Across the empty airfield the wonderful sight and sound of Rob Davies in P-51D Big Beautiful Doll carrying out a full display on the crisp winter morning. This was followed by a trip up to Duxford, a memorable way to spend such a historic day.

On my trip to America earlier in the year I was lucky enough to visit Kill Devil Hills and see where those historic first flights took place. I was even able to walk the flight path of those historic hops from over 100 years ago. The area is now owned by the national parks and they do a great job of looking after it.

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A Replica of the original Wright Flyer engine on display at the science museum.

There is a small visitors center/museum which has a number of artefacts from the era. There are also replicas of the glider and flyer. Outside replica buildings have been constructed to show the conditions the brothers were working under and a path has been constructed allowing visitors to walk the route those first flights took.  It really is the home of flight and it was a wonderful experience.

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