On a windy morning in December 1903, Wilbur and Orville Wright changed history when they became the first to fly “an air machine” for just 12 seconds.
Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and state officials celebrated the 115th anniversary of the brothers’ first flight with a ceremony at the Wright Memorial atop Wright Brothers Hill on Monday. The memorial includes a walled plaza and flagstone walkways surrounding a 17-foot-tall shaft made of North Carolina granite.
Col. Thomas Sherman, commander of Wright-Patterson, said the “ideas birthed inside of the hearts and minds” of the Wright Brothers have helped make the U.S. Air Force into the powerhouse that it is today.
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On the morning of Dec. 17, 1903, Wilbur and Orville Wright took turns piloting and monitoring their flying machine in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina.
Orville piloted the first flight that lasted just 12 seconds and 120 feet. On the fourth and final flight of the day, Wilbur traveled 852 feet, remaining airborne for 59 seconds. The brothers built their 1903 glider in sections in the back room of their Dayton bicycle shop.
Wright-Patterson maintains the memorial, and the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park operates an adjacent interpretive center at 2380 Memorial Road. It sits on a bed of Kitty Hawk sand and overlooks the Huffman Prairie Flying Field, where the Wright brothers continued their flying experiments after Kitty Hawk.
Amanda Wright Lane, the great grand-niece of the Wright Brothers, reflected on the avionic advancements catapulted into the aerospace industry this year. She said entrepreneurs like Richard Branson and Elon Musk — and the innovations of NASA and the Air Force — would’ve inspired the men who started it all.
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“All the things they’re doing now, I think about that. I think Uncle Orv and Uncle Wil would be extremely interested in what’s happening in the future,” she said. “It means a lot to look back, but I know they were men who looked forward.”
Tony Sculimbrene, executive director of the National Aviation Heritage Alliance, said the Miami Valley still has work to do in preserving the history of the Wright Brothers.
At the top of the list is the Wright Brothers Company factory site, he said. The factory was the first in America built for the purpose of manufacturing airplanes.
“The community needs to step up and restore that site. This site will tell the final chapter of the lives of Wilbur and Orville Wright together,” he said.
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Ohio Gov. John Kasich said the Wright Brothers “set out to change the world, making our great state the Birthplace of Aviation.”
Ownership over the title, “Birthplace of Aviation,” has been a point of contention between Ohio and North Carolina. In 2003, Congress officially declared Ohio as the birthplace over North Carolina, because Dayton was the home of Wilbur and Orville Wright.
So, as Kasich said: Thanks for the wind, North Carolina.
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