Kitty Hawk, 100 Years Later
The view from the top of Kill Devil Hill showing some of the static display aircraft.
Note Greg Herrick's Fairchild FC2W2 in the center.
This aircraft was used by the Dept. of the Interior
in the Outer Banks region when it was a new aircraft.
Click on all images for full views
Sitting on a US Airways 737 as it speeds towards Kansas City I feel I should get my thoughts and impressions of our just completed trip to the "100th Anniversary of Flight" celebration down before they fade into but pleasant memories.
When a year ago APM directors Mike Lossner and Steve Butler proposed that a group of us should attend this notable event several other APM directors and Antique Airfield volunteers found a common enthusiasm for this idea and plans were put into motion.
We secured a rental property in nearby Nags Head that would house most of our group and as 2003 rolled on we all kept a look out for cheap airline fares.
We kept up with the progress on the building and testing of the replica Wright Flyers, gliders and the Wright Model B being constructed by the "Wright Experience" team through various aviation media as well as specials on NOVA and the Discovery Channel. Thus when December rolled around our group was ready and enthused over the prospect of getting to see history recreated.
One of the numerous formation flybys.
This of an F-15, F-16 and two P-51s as they fly by
the Wright Memorial atop Kill Devil Hill.
Dec 12th- Dawned cloudy and snowing at Antique Airfield but soon enough Mark and Terri Lancaster, Marcy and I were headed towards Kansas City. There we were met by Bob and Cindy Grimm. On our arrival in Raleigh, NC we met up with Steve Butler. A rental van was secured and soon enough we were headed towards the outer banks. Arrival at our digs in Nags Head showed that APM director Steve Black and his wife Debbie had already arrived.
Dec 13th- Cloudy with rain is how the first morning in Nags Head greeted our group so a decision was made to visit other notable sights in the area. A drive S. on Hwy. 12 took us to stops at Pea Island and the famous Cape Hatteras light house. On arrival back at the house we found Nathan Rounds and Linda Morgan had made it up from Atlanta.
The V-22 "Osprey" on display.
Could the Wrights have even imagined such an aircraft?
Dec 15th- The sunrise from the deck overlooking the Atlantic was beautiful, I was told, and soon enough we were on our way to the "First Flight Memorial" on one of the numerous shuttle buses. I should point out that of all that has been written about the problems and controversy in preparation for this event, the transportation of the thousands of visitors to and from the memorial was very well planned and executed. Once through security (akin to your average airline type security) I found myself stepping foot on where it all began. We made our way around the various tents and pavilions that had been set up for the celebration on out to the memorial standing atop Kill Devil Hill. We strolled around the base of the hill where several aircraft were on static display including everything from Greg Herrick's Fairchild FC2W2 (flown in earlier in the week by Nathan Rounds) to the Polen Special. A trip up to the top of the hill yielded an overall view of the memorial and the goings on and would prove to be the best seat in the house. As we stood in the shadow of the memorial a continuous display of warbirds and current military aircraft flew by at seemingly eye level. These flybys would be a daily and continuous event and would feature everything from Stearmans to Air Force One. There was a mass of displays and other things to look at and we attempted to absorb what we could that first day but it was apparent it would take more than just one day to see everything. However several of our group had the pleasure of seeing the replica Flyer rolled out and test run late in the afternoon. That evening as we gathered in a local pub to discuss the various sights and sounds of the day, our group was joined by Dave Lamb and his wife Beth as well as Greg Herrick and Suzanne Fedoruk.
Stephen Wright talking about his famous relatives to an attentive audience
Dec 16th- Another beautiful day with the weather channel promising light winds and temps near sixty. Once out to the memorial Mark Lancaster and I set out to look at some of the things we missed the day before. These included the Flyer replica Harry Combs had presented to the memorial and the V-22 Osprey, which had put on an impressive display the previous afternoon. We took our time in walking the path and looking over the stone markers pinpointing the takeoff and landing points of the flights on Dec 17th, 1903. We noted any number of people having their pictures taken at the four markers plus the medallion and stone at the end of the track where the Wright's launched themselves into the history books. We continued onto the building housing the "Wright Experience" Flyer where we listened to Steven Wright reflect on his famous relatives as well as give some insight into their lives after the flights of 1903. We enjoyed watching several people, young and old alike, try their hand at the Wright Flyer simulator. Onto the front of the hangar where while looking over the "star" of the show, the "Wright Experience" 1903 Flyer we ran into Lyman Hatz. We watched for a time as various "Wright Experience" team members went about their work on the Flyer and I even spotted Ken Hyde, head of the "Wright Experience" and an AAA member. I wanted to say hello but as can be imagined he was besieged with people wanting some of his time so we continued on with our perambulations.
We went in search of some lunch and to our relief found it only took a fifteen-minute wait this day (as opposed to 45 minutes the previous) to get our hotdogs (the food vendors certainly could have learned something from those in charge of the transportation). We then secured a spot about half way up Kill Devil Hill to view the flybys and the airshow. The view of the sea of people was amazing. Some 30,000 plus who came to this spot all for the same reason, to see history recreated. It was at this point in time that the most poignant moment of the whole event happened for me.
The star of the show.
The "Wright Experience" 1903 Wright Flyer
I was looking down at the building housing the replica Flyer when two people came walking out dressed in period clothing much as I would imagine Orville and Wilbur would have been wearing. I do not know if it was some of the "Wright Experience" crew, actors or whomever but they started walking off to the N towards the original takeoff point. As they strolled no one, it seemed, paid them any attention or notice. It was if the ghosts of Orville and Wilbur had been inspecting the replica Flyer and were now deep in discussion on its merits as they headed back to their original campsite.
But soon enough I was broken out of my reflection as the afternoon airshow started. It featured Bobby Younkin in an impressive display with a Decathlon, AAA member Patty Wagstaff in her Extra and the Aeroshell T-6 team among others. The day was then capped off with a flyby by the F-22 Raptor and a missing man formation preformed by the USAF Thunderbirds.
Dec 17th- We awoke to overcast skies and the promise of rain with not much chance of improvement. However it did not matter, as this was the day we had come for. By the time we had cleared security (45 min. as opposed to the usual 15-20 min.) a steady rain was falling and by the time President Busch arrived it was a downpour. As much as we hated to Marcy and I were both soaked so we decided to return to the house to dry out and perhaps return later in the day. It did mean that we would not be there at the 10:35 am zero hour but it did not appear as if the flight of the replica Flyer would take place at all that day. Once back at the house we were shortly joined by about half our party and we watched the attempted reenactment flight at 12:28 pm on the TV.
I have to give credit though to those of our party whom toughed it out and stayed at the memorial with several thousand others come "Hell or High Water" (and high water it was). Still I can say that I was there on the sight one hundred years later and only 40,000 or so of us can make that claim.
A view of the thousands that came to watch history recreated
Now that I have related the experiences our group had (at least my impressions of those experiences) I think some reflection on these events is in order.
To be honest I am certainly not the most impartial judge on the what, where, why and how this event came about but I do know that I came away from it with a different perspective than the one I had going in.
First the Wright's by all accounts set out to build a heavier than air powered flying machine and while on the way to that goal invented the wind tunnel as well as perfected propeller design and construction among other technologies. At the conclusion of their four flights on Dec 17th, 1903 the Wright Flyer never flew again. Its purpose had been fulfilled and the brothers were on to the next chapter in powered flight. There was no celebration on the outer banks that night just the satisfaction of knowing they had accomplished what they had set out to do. As they packed up the Flyer and prepared to travel home to Dayton, to be there in time for Christmas with their family, the thing they could not have known is how their accomplishment had just changed and would continue to change the world.
Second Ken Hyde and the members of the "Wright Experience" as well as the Hays brothers (builders of the engine) set out to accurately recreate an exact moment in history. Along the way they rediscovered and walked a parallel path to the Wrights. Though the recreation may not have come off as planned nor as the event sponsors wanted they too have in a way changed the world. They have preserved and consolidated a vast amount of history and data about the Wrights and their aircraft that quite possibly would have stay scattered and lost forever. They proved that the Wright's were truly the pioneers in powered flight by their successes and failures. But perhaps most importantly and not measurable is the impact this event will have on the future of aviation. After being there and seeing the great number of children attending this event (whether with their families or school groups etc.) they may have inspired a great many of them to also continue down the Wright's path. Time will tell!
My sincere congratulations to Ken Hyde and all the members of the "Wright Experience" on a job well done.
Now I think I will go flying!