The most hallowed ground of aviation is right here on the Outer Banks. In the center of all the bustling beach-town activity of Kill Devil Hills, a pocket of land is reserved to honor Wilbur and Orville Wright and the exact place where the brothers flew the world’s very first powered and controlled airplane. At the Wright Brothers National Memorial, the National Park Service maintains this historic landmark with a 60-foot-tall granite monument, a museum and an airstrip.
Since it was established in 1932, the Wright Brothers National Memorial has paid tribute to Wilbur and Orville Wright and their contributions to the world of aviation. The site had a fabulous $5 million makeover in 2003 for the First Flight Centennial Celebration, which added a great deal to the inspirational and educational experience for visitors.
On these historic lands you can get a real sense of what really happened here on December 17, 1903, and in the years leading up to that event. Inside the museum, you can see a full-scale reproduction of the 1902 glider, a full-scale reproduction of the 1903 flying machine, an engine block from the original 1903 Flyer and a reproduction of the Wright’s first wind tunnel. You can hear the fascinating story of the Wright brothers and their inventions from a gifted storyteller and historian. You can learn why the two brothers from Dayton, Ohio, chose the Outer Banks as the location for their experiments. You can see photographs taken the day that history was made.
Outside on the grounds, you can follow markers to walk in the precise places that the airplane landed. You can see a rustic campsite like the one the Wright brothers stayed in while conducting their experiments. You can walk to the monument on top of the 90-foot, grass-covered hill, where, with an outstanding view of the ocean, you will swell with American pride about the “dauntless resolution and unconquerable faith” of Wilbur and Orville Wright.
In 2008 the First Flight Foundation, in partnership with the National Park Service, spent $400,000 to restore the monument. The money for the project came from a commemorative coin program with the U.S. Mint during the First Flight Centennial Celebration in 2003.
Wright Brothers National Memorial is open seven days a week, year-round, 9 am–5 pm. For information visit www.nps.gov/wrbr or call 252-441-7430.
Wright Brothers National Memorial isn’t the only place to celebrate the spirit of flight on the Outer Banks. Be sure to check out the unique Monument to a Century of Flight at milepost 1 in Kitty Hawk (next to the Outer Banks Welcome Center), which honors the aviation achievements of the last 100 years. This monument was designed by local artist Glenn Eure and funded entirely by private donations.