The accomplishments of the Wright Brothers changed the world forever and are remembered at the Wright Brothers National Memorial. After their flight, never again would the world be the same. Today their accomplishment is celebrated as one of America's greatest scientific breakthroughs. While near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, don't forget to check out the Lost Colony (and first English Colony) at Roanoke nearby.

Unlike so many other attractions in the nation, the attraction here is not glamorous. But it is one of the most meaningful locations in the USA. It marks a location that something momentous occurred. What happened here is one of the most important events in the history of human innovation. It is well worth a visit to see the site and how this event is commemorated with monuments and a museum!


The First Flight

Mankind has always dreamt of taking to the skies and flying like a bird. This dream remained a pipe dream until 1783 (yup 1783) when the Frenchman Jean-Francois Pilatre de Rozier took to the skies for the first time in human history in a hot air balloon. The date was around October 15, 1783.

  • First Human Flight: 1783 (In An Unpowered Balloon)

Originally King Louis XVI decreed that only condemned criminals would have the ultra dangerous role of being the first pilots. But Pilatre de Rozier petitioned successfully and became the second to take to the air.

  • Military Use: The First Flight In Military Use Was In 1794 In a Hot Air Balloon For Observation
  • Crossing The English Channel: The First Crossing of The Channel Was In 1785 By Jean-Pierre Blanchard In A Hot Air Balloon

Related: How To Be More Comfortable When Flying Alone For The Very First Time

The Wright Brothers National Memorial

The Wright Brothers National Memorial celebrates the first powered human flight in history. While mankind had already been flying for more than a century, no one had managed a powered flight and many detractors thought it impossible.

  • Address: 1401 National Park Drive, Manteo, NC
  • Days Open: The Memorial Is Open Seven Days A Week, Year-Round (Closed Christmas Day and December 2)
  • Hours Open: 9:00 am to 5:00 pm

Today a large 60-foot granite monument stands on the Kill Devil Hill to commemorate the momentous event. It was dedicated back in 1932. Besides this imposing structure, it is possible to walk along the actual routes of the four flights - there are small monuments that mark their start and finish. Additionally, there are two wooden sheds, these are reconstructions that are based on historic photographs designed to recreate the world's first airplane hangar (the hangar doubled up as the brother's living quarters).

Inscribed on the memorial tower are the words:

"In commemoration of the conquest of the air by the brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright conceived by genius achieved by dauntless resolution and unconquerable faith."

The Visitor Center is home to a museum that exhibits models and some of the actual tools and machines used by the Wright brothers. There is also a reproduction of wind tunnel that was used to test the wing shapes for flight. See a full-sized reproduction of the Wright Flyer - and even part of the original engine.

The Wright Brothers And The First Successful Flight

Amazingly the Wright brothers were not scientists. Instead, they ran a bicycle shop in Ohio and it was in that bicycle shop that they drew up their plans and blueprints for their groundbreaking invention.

From 1900 to 1903 Wilbur and Orville Wright came to Kill Devil Hills in North Carolina to experiment with powered flight. They chose the location due to the area's favorable steady winds (and the privacy of the location).

Like so many monumental inventions in the world. The first success is more of a proof of concept than anything practical. On December 17, the flyer had been repaired from previous abortive flights, the wind was averaging more than 20 miles per house, and it was Orville's turn to try his luck (Wilbur had already had a failed go).

  • First Pilot: Orville Wright (of a Powered Aircraft)
  • Length Flown: 120 Feet Or 37 Meters
  • Duration Of Flight: 12 Seconds

Related: What To Expect When Visiting The U.S. Space & Rocket Center In Alabama

What Orville accomplished is at once both underwhelming and earth-shattering. He flew for 12 seconds for a total distance of 120 feet (37 meters). That is shorter than the wingspan of a Boeing 747. But the distance flown was irrelevant. The time in the air was irrelevant. It was possible to achieve powered flight - that had been demonstrated and proven. Now, quite literally the sky was the limit. 66 years later Neil Armstrong would be walking on the moon.

  • Date: December 17, 1903
  • Wright Brothers: Wilbur and Orville Wright
  • First Powered Aircraft: The Wright Flyer
  • Wright Flyer: Today The Original Airplane Is Exhibited In The National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C.

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The original Wright Flyer is on display in Washington D.C. at the Air and Space Museum where it is described by the Smithsonian as "the first powered, heavier-than-air machine to achieve controlled, sustained flight with a pilot aboard." See here for what you need to know about visiting the Smithsonian museums in Washington D.C.

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