By TODD HUVARD.
In 1926, a group of farsighted Outer Bankers recognized the importance of a solitary sand dune called Kill Devil Hill. The dune rose above a barren, wind-swept strip of sand that barely kept the Atlantic Ocean and the Pamlico Sound separated, the site where man first took to blustery skies at the controls of a powered heavier-than-air machine on Dec. 17, 1903.
It was the Kill Devil Hill Memorial Society that took up the challenge of preserving the site of the first flights and pushed forward the goal of erecting a monument to the memory of Wilbur and Orville Wright’s achievements. It was because of this group’s dedication that the Wright Brothers Memorial Park came into being in 1927.
By 1932, the now-familiar Wright Brothers Monument stood powerfully above the Outer Banks, its massive granite form gracefully turned into a wing against the steady winds. At night, its high power beacon was a brilliant guidepost on an otherwise featureless black coast.
In 1948, the local park was transferred to the U.S. Parks Service and became a national park, where today it provides an inspirational legacy for more than 600,000 visitors each year.
In 1966, the society’s original goals were expanded by the incorporation of the First Flight Society, a non-profit memorial, educational and historical organization that has continued the good work of preserving, protecting and promoting the origin and history of flight. On Dec. 17 of each year, the First Flight Society celebrates the anniversary of the first flights by honoring aviation pioneers and recognizing an array of aviators who have accomplished significant firsts.
Big doings for the 100th anniversary of flight saw huge crowds, but the annual ceremony has settled back into its old-fashioned roots, with usually no more than a few hundred hardy disciples on hand to hear the story of that first epic moment in the history of flight. At precisely 10:35 a.m., there is a thrilling series of flyovers by military, commercial and general aviation aircraft. It is a worthwhile experience – and an intimate gathering of like-minded aviators.
The night before, on Dec. 16, is the annual The Man Will Never Fly Memorial Society Internationale fete. This group continues its time-honored tradition of publicizing the hoax they believe has been perpetrated on modern life. “Birds Fly, Men Drink” is their motto, along with other words of wisdom: “Given the choice, we will never fly. Given no choice, we will never fly sober.”
The pilgrimage to the Wright Brothers National Memorial is always a standout moment in any pilot’s flying career. But to visit in the cold wind of an Outer Banks December makes the occasion even more memorable. For more information on this year’s festivities and schedules, see the First Flight Society website
Todd Huvard, president of AircraftMerchants, a North Carolina-based aircraft brokerage, is a commercial pilot with multi-engine, instrument and seaplane ratings and is typed in Cessna 500 and Falcon 20 jets. He founding editor and publisher of The Southern Aviator.