Dressed in coats and ties to add a touch of ceremony to an event that they hoped would change the world, Orville Wright released the restraining wire, allowing the aircraft to move down the rails, while Wilbur steadied the wings. The winter weather had firmly set in on December 17, 1903, and the Wright Brothers were aware that this could be one of their last chances of the season to fly. With Orville piloting the aircraft and Wilbur still running alongside it, the aircraft lifted off the ground, pitching up and down, until it hit the sand 12 seconds later.
This historic flight – the first successful human attempt of heavier-than-air, controlled, powered flight – took place in the remote Outer Banks town of Kitty Hawk. The site is now commemorated as the Wright Brothers National Memorial.
Even now the Outer Banks, which are a string of beautiful East Coast barrier islands in North Carolina, are a remote but worthwhile spot to visit. Accessible now by car, ferry or plane, this region’s particular weather patterns and topography drew the brothers to conduct their flight experiments here. The area is characterized by broad, open expanses of sand, with very little vegetation and steady north-easterly winds.
“In October my brother and myself spent a vacation of several weeks at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, experimenting with a soaring machine. It is the ideal place for gliding experiments except for its accessibility,” wrote Wilbur Wright in 1900.
Not only does a visit to the memorial allow one to walk where history was made but to enjoy the interactive exhibits in the Visitor’s Center and to explore the reconstructed camp where Wilbur and Orville lived while experimenting in the region.
The Outer Banks remain a paradise for flight enthusiasts to this day so set aside a few days to try out hang gliding, parasailing, kiteboarding and more.