top of page

The Devil you say (Kill Devil Hills, that is)

Technology has always been a marvel to behold, so often changing our lives forever. Think about the 'Net you're reading this on and its ability to connect people around the world instantly. Think about the car and the subsequent road system that allows us to travel this beautiful country.

But, for many, possibly me, too, the technology that was most revolutionary is the airplane. It allowed humans to not only meet that glorious goal of flying, but to now be able to travel the globe within hours or mere days. Readers of this blog know about our many trips that have involved flights (some good, some not so much).

None of those would be possible without the genius, determination and perseverance of Wilbur and Orville Wright. That genius is on display here in Kitty Hawk, N.C., and specifically Kill Devil Hills. This mini-getaway, so far, has been incredible.

We strolled the field where the Ohio brothers made their world-changing flights. We walked to the top of the 100-foot dune in Kill Devil Hills where their numerous glider flights helped them prepare to make the first powered flight. At the top of that dune is a memorial to the brothers. (The dune should be called Kill Tourist Hills as the steep grade coupled with the very warm temperature made the climb a, shall we say, challenge.)

Standing near the 60-foot tall memorial you take in the scope of what they were attempting and the enormous challenges, both scientific and physical, they had to overcome. I read David McCullough's outstanding book on the brothers just last week. His descriptions of what they did, what they had to endure and their crowning achievement of flight were now real to me. I could feel the winds on top of the dune that allowed the initial gliders to soar and the mechanics of flight to be explored, eventually discovered or invented. The rail on which the first powered flights ran sits in the ground with markers signifying the length of each flight.

Standing at the end of the longest flight, 852 feet lasting 59 seconds, you can almost see the plane on its historic trip. You can almost hear the 12 horsepower engine. (Actually, you can hear engines, much more powerful, as planes land and takeoff on the adjacent runway.) You just wish you were one of the very islanders who were there that day.

One of the things that was so amazing to me, as detailed in McCullough's book, was the engineering and aeronautical problems that the brothers had to overcome to fly. Neither was a college graduate, but both had innate skills that enabled them to create a wonder. I didn't know that they used a wind tunnel, which I always thought was a more recent innovation, to test their models. The plane's engine was designed by the brothers and built by Charles Taylor, a mechanic in their Ohio bicycle shop. They had an understanding of scientific principles that others at the time could only envy.

Last year, more than 4.3 billion passengers boarded planes for business, to see family and friends, or to see the world. Most, I will guess, did not think about what happened here on that December day in 1903. From now on, every time I fly, I will.


A ceremony for the sky

During our many trips we have seen a number of different ceremonies. We've seen several weddings. We've seen the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. We've seen more than 1,000 plebes at the U.S. Naval Academy march on their way to serving the nation.

Today, we saw an unexpected ceremony that was one we will probably never see again.

From the top of the Kill Devil Hills, we watched as a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter circled the area sever al times before ultimately landing at the end of the runway nearest to the marker that signified the longest flight. Someone walked from the copter and from the side of the field, another person walked, then met in the center. We were too far away to really see what was happening but were intrigued. We watched at the individuals separated and returned to their respective sides of the field.

We got to the monument that marked the start of where the powered flights started and waited as the copter prepared to takeoff. Ellen, being the extrovert in this couple asked a nearby woman if she knew what was happening. She did. She had just presented her husband, the copter's pilot, with his captain's bars. Here where powered fight began, one our nation's finest, whose job is to save lives, received the insignia of his new rank.

We talked with the woman, her pride so evident, who said the ceremony here was unusual, but they thought it was a fitting place for it to occur. We agreed. They've been in the area for 2.5 years and have another 1.5 before a reassignment may take them away from this beautiful area.

When the copter took off and circled the field, we took photos and video, feeling honored to have seen the ceremony. We're sending the couple the photos we took. It's the least we can do for those who serve our nation. Best wishes to them.

A recreation of the first flight and the witnesses who attend.

The Wright Brothers Memorial

The view from the top of Kill Devil Hills. The white marker at the top right shows where the longest flight ended.

How I would have looked if I was a passenger in one of the Wright Brothers' first planes.

bottom of page