Orville and Wilbur Wright In North Carolina
Before coming to North Carolina, the brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright rarely traveled beyond their hometown of Dayton, Ohio. When they came, they came determined that they would fly.
The brothers began their research and experimentation in the late 1890's. By early 1900 they were looking for a place to try out their ideas. They wanted constant wind, soft sand and privacy. In early August 1900, Joseph Dosher of Kitty Hawk responded to Wilbur's letter of inquiry by writing, "...the beach here is about one mile wide, clear of trees or high hills and extends for nearly sixty miles same condition. The wind blows mostly from the north and northeast September and October... I am sorry to say you could not rent a house here, so you will have to bring tents. You could obtain board.”
And then two days later William Tate, also of Kitty Hawk, wrote to say, "If you decide to try your machine here & come I will take pleasure in doing all I can for your convenience & success & pleasure, & I assure you (that) you will find a hospitable people when you come among us." They knew they had found a place to go.
Just a month later Wilbur and Orville came to Kitty Hawk with their first man-carrying flying device – a glider – that they tested during September and October. They were embraced by the people of Kitty Hawk, who provided food and assistance, and by the men of the nearby Life Saving Service Stations, who became their ground crew.
They returned to the Outer Banks in 1901 and 1902, each year with improved designs that gradually solved the problems of lift and lateral control. Along the way, the brothers became the most accomplished glider pilots in the world. With their glider of 1902, they felt they had solved the kept problems of control in the air. Now they were ready for powered flight.
1903 was to be their year. In Dayton, they designed and built propellers, a lightweight gasoline engine, a drive mechanism, and a launching apparatus. Even after their arrival in North Carolina, the brothers continued to redesign key elements of the drive train. They did not give up. They were ready on December 14th. Wilbur won the coin toss to make the first try, but he overcorrected on takeoff and damaged the aircraft.
On December 17th, they were ready to try again. The men from the Kill Devil Hills Life Saving Station were on hand to serve as their crew and observers. At 10:35 a.m. with Orville at the controls, the Wright flyer lifted into the air.
The flight lasted 12 seconds and covered 120 feet. It was the world's first flight and Outer Banksman, John T. Daniels recorded the moment in one of the world's most famous photographs. That it was no fluke was proved when brother Wilbur took the controls of this first airplane at 11:20 and took it 195 feet. Orville then flew 200 feet over 15 seconds and Wilbur set the rapidly increasing world record to 852 feet over 59 seconds.
added: December 30, 2008
updated: January 2, 2009