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The Wright Brothers National Memorial

Wright Brothers National Memorial: First Flight Sculpture - Airplanes and Rockets

Wright Brothers National Memorial: First Flight Sculpture

Wright Brothers National Memorial: Melanie and Kirt Blattenberger - Airplanes and RocketsWright Brothers National Memorial: Sculptor Stephen H. Smith plaque  - Airplanes and RocketsIt only took 57 years, but I finally visited the site of Orville and Wilbur Wright's first flights from Kill Devil Hill on the shore of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina - now commemorated by the Wright Brothers National Memorial. I must admit that the place looked nothing like I expected based on photographs made at the turn of the last century. Wilbur's words to his father, "I chose Kitty Hawk because it seemed the place which most clearly met the required conditions. At Kitty Hawk, which is on the narrow bar separating the Sound from the Ocean, there are neither hills nor trees, so that it offers a safe place for practice," in no way describes the surroundings of 2016. The last time I was as surprised to witness such a startling difference between 'then' and 'now' settings was when getting off the tour bus in front of The Alamo, in San Antonio, Texas, and not recognizing it.

That's not to say I was disappointed; more than a century of progress has changed most landscapes the world around. Barren sand dunes have been replaced with a forest of trees and grassy knolls, and the coastline that used to provide those steady winds so necessary for the Wright Brothers' experiments. Those same kinds of tests could scarcely be carried out today. As can be seen in the panoramic photo below, the entire Atlantic coastline is populated with homes and businesses.

Looking east toward Atlantic Ocean from Wright Brothers Memorial monument - Airplanes and Rockets

Looking east toward Atlantic Ocean from Wright Brothers Memorial monument

Wright Brothers National Memorial:  - Airplanes and RocketsOne of the most surprising things I leaned there was that the flights were not made heading east, toward the ocean. I assumed the prevailing winds would be coming from the ocean, but in fact the record-setting flights were made heading almost due north. A screen capture of the Google Earth map (right) shows where the powered flights were made relative to the location of Kill Devil Hill - it was north of the dune and ran north-south. According to photos from the era, the ground sloped gently from the peak in all directions so takeoff in any direction could be accommodated, but now there is a steep drop-off to the south and southeast that would prevent use in those directions.

Wright Brothers' workshop and living quarters - Airplanes and Rockets

Wright Brothers National Memorial: Maintenance shack - Airplanes and Rockets

Rebuilt living quarters

Wright Brothers National Memorial: Camp life, 1900 to 1903 - Airplanes and Rockets

Wright Brothers National Memorial: Stone monument front - Airplanes and Rockets

Wright Brothers First Flight Monument

Although the original workshop and living quarters structures are long gone, replicas have been built and equipped with artifacts from the Wrights' activities. Sparseness of living and working conditions is apparent, but then at the turn of the last century, most households were no more eloquently equipped.

Wright Brothers National Memorial: Supermodel Melanie with marker for launching point of Wright Brothers' powered flights - Airplanes and RocketsWright Brothers National Memorial: Launching point plaque - Airplanes and Rockets

Marker for launching point of Wright Brothers' powered flights, adjacent to workshop and living quarters.

Wright Brothers National Memorial: Big Kill Devil Hill photo plaque - Airplanes and RocketsWright Brothers National Memorial: First flight photo plaque - Airplanes and Rockets

Memorial plaques with photos of early flights.

There is a fairly large amount of information and many photographs of the area around the Wright Brothers National Museum building, so I will not bother posting many of the photos I took; however, there is not much available about the displays inside the building. Therefore, figuring there must be many more souls like me who have always wanted to visit but have never taken - or had - the time to do so, I was sure to get a lot of photos of all the exhibits contained within. I am fairly certain that everything available while we were there is included below. My camera was not very high quality and the lighting is really awful in the display area - maybe to help preserve the artifacts. I attempted to keep as much text legible as possible.

 

 

Wilbur and Orville Wright's Path to Success

These plaques provide background information about the process leading up to both unpowered and powered flights. Back in the day, research and development was carried out mostly by private concerns working independently and on their own dime, as opposed to university and government facility efforts. The personal income tax was not created until 1913 in the U.S., so there was no unlimited pot of money - particularly in this era of massive deficits - to redistribute like there is today. Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse, Nicola Tesla, and others did their work largely without any gub'ment[sic] assistance.

Wright Brothers National Memorial: the Wright Brothers of Dayton - Airplanes and RocketsWright Brothers National Memorial: Pioneers of Flight - Airplanes and RocketsWright Brothers National Memorial: the Wright Brothers - Airplanes and Rockets

Wright Brothers National Memorial: Paying Their Way - Airplanes and RocketsWright Brothers National Memorial: Why Kitty Hawk? - Airplanes and RocketsWright Brothers National Memorial: Glider Experiments - Airplanes and RocketsWright Brothers National Memorial: Problems of Flight - Airplanes and Rockets

Wright Brothers National Memorial: Laboratory Tests - Airplanes and RocketsWright Brothers National Memorial: the 1902 Glider - Airplanes and RocketsWright Brothers National Memorial: 1903 Powered Machine - Airplanes and Rockets

Evidence of Accomplishment

The exhibits below show tools and test equipment used by Orville and Wilbur Wright while developing their flying machines. Almost everything, from the aircraft structural components and covering to the entire engine and propeller, were researched and tested from scratch simply because there was no previous work to reference. Note the work documented on calculating lift coefficients based on angle of attack. From what I have found, neither brother had a college degree, yet were astute dabblers in mechanics and physics, and were reportedly excellent students in school. Deriving the equations and constructing tables of values such as those presented here is clearly the work of highly self-educated people. Design, construction, and use of the wind tunnel for testing airfoils was nothing short of ingenious. Their engineering notebooks and texts are impressive.

Wright Brothers National Memorial: Horsepower and Propellers - Airplanes and RocketsWright Brothers National Memorial: Original crankcase - Airplanes and RocketsWright Brothers National Memorial: the 1903 Motor - Airplanes and Rockets

Wright Brothers National Memorial:  - Airplanes and RocketsWright Brothers National Memorial: Wind Tunnel - Airplanes and RocketsWright Brothers National Memorial: Wind tunnel end view - Airplanes and RocketsWright Brothers National Memorial:  - Airplanes and Rockets

Wright Brothers National Memorial: Airfoil test shapes - Airplanes and RocketsWright Brothers National Memorial: Airfoil lift calculations - Airplanes and RocketsWright Brothers National Memorial: Airfoil lift coefficient tables - Airplanes and Rockets

Wright Brothers National Memorial:  - Airplanes and RocketsWright Brothers National Memorial:  - Airplanes and RocketsWright Brothers National Memorial:  - Airplanes and Rockets

December 17, 1903: The Day Man First Flew

Wright Brothers National Memorial:  - Airplanes and Rockets

Wright Brothers National Memorial:  - Airplanes and RocketsWright Brothers National Memorial:  - Airplanes and RocketsWright Brothers National Memorial:  - Airplanes and RocketsWright Brothers National Memorial:  - Airplanes and Rockets

Telegraph to father Bishop W. Wright to tell of successful flights. Diorama of the 1903 flight.

Full-Scale Replicas of the Wright Flyers - A Walk-Around During the Presentation

Wright Brothers National Memorial: Full-size replica of 1903 Wright Flyer - Airplanes and Rockets

1903 Wright Flyer replica

The National Park Service young lady who gave the presentation to visitors did so with a nearly evangelistic fervor. She had the audience in rapt attention and elicited more cooperation from a group of strangers than I've seen since a Jimmy Swaggart crusade meeting. I'm sure I heard a couple 'amens' uttered weepingly by members of the audience during the time she had them closing their eyes to imagine being there at Kitty Hawk with Orville and Wilbur, while she painted a word picture of the events that ensued.

Wright Brothers National Memorial: Full-scale replicas (view 1) - Airplanes and RocketsWright Brothers National Memorial: Full-scale replicas (view 2) - Airplanes and RocketsWright Brothers National Memorial: Full-scale replicas (view 3) - Airplanes and Rockets

Wright Brothers National Memorial: Full-scale replicas (view 4) - Airplanes and RocketsWright Brothers National Memorial: Full-scale replicas (view 5) - Airplanes and RocketsWright Brothers National Memorial: Full-scale replicas (view 6) - Airplanes and Rockets

Wright Brothers National Memorial: Full-scale replicas (view 7) - Airplanes and RocketsWright Brothers National Memorial: Full-scale replicas (view 8) - Airplanes and RocketsWright Brothers National Memorial: Full-scale replicas (view 9) - Airplanes and Rockets

The Souvenir Shop

You might help defray operating costs through buying something at the souvenir shop.

Wright Brothers National Memorial: The Souvenir Shop - Airplanes and RocketsWright Brothers National Memorial: The Souvenir Shop #2 - Airplanes and Rockets

If hope you manage to visit some day.

 

 

Posted June 18, 2016

About Airplanes & Rockets

Kirt Blattenberger, Webmaster - Airplanes and Rockets
Kirt Blattenberger
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Even during the busiest times of my life I have endeavored to maintain some form of model building activity. This site has been created to help me chronicle my journey through a lifelong involvement in model aviation, which all began in Mayo, MD. There is a lot of good information and there are lot of pictures throughout the website that you will probably find useful, and might even bring back some old memories from your own days of yore. The website began life around 1996 as an EarthLink screen name of ModelAirplanes, and quickly grew to where more server space ...

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