Wright Brothers Memorial

10/18/2013 12:00 AM

09/20/2013 2:09 PM

Who in their right mind would plan a winter trip to the Outer Banks, knowing full well that winds there can be quite strong?

Well, Wilbur and Orville Wright, for starters. Working in Ohio first with gliders, later with heavier-than-air machines, the brothers needed to find a place with winds they could rely upon late in the year (when their bicycle shop wasn’t busy) and where sandy beaches that would help cushion any landing.

They came to Kitty Hawk in 1900 and 1901 to test gliders and learn about wing design and “lift”; in 1902 they mastered turn-control. Returning in 1903 with a full-fledged airplane, they made history Dec. 17 with the first flights of humans in a heavier-than-air machine. Wind gusts that day in the Kitty Hawk area were 27 mph.

And if you aren’t adverse to wind, a winter trip to Wright Brothers National Memorial (www.nps.gov/wrbr) is a great way to learn about the challenges and opportunities the “First in Flight” brothers encountered.

The 60-foot granite monument on top of Big Kill Devil Hill (it’s called a “pylon”) marks where the Wrights did their many glider tests. On flat ground nearby, you can pace off the exact spot where the age of aviation began.

The memorial’s visitor center has full-scale reproductions of a 1902 Wright glider the 1903 flying machine; an engine block from the original 1903 Flyer; and a reproduction of the brothers’ first wind tunnel.

The bubble-shaped Centennial Pavilion holds exhibits about the Outer Banks when the Wrights were there, the evolution of aviation, and NASA-sponsored space exhibits. A film about the park is shown every 30 minutes.

Hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily; admission is $4; 15 and younger, free. The Wright memorial is one of the fee-based National Park Service properties that offer free entry on specific holidays; the next free days are Nov. 9-11. (Veterans Day weekend). Info on free-admission dates nationwide: http://1.usa.gov/9xVNXb.

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