A Soaring Centennial

By Janet Webb Farnsworth Premium

Imagine how your ancestors must have felt when they heard that man could fly like a bird — not just floating passively in a balloon, but in something he could steer, dip and soar. Your grandparents might have reacted with awe and excitement (or terror!) 100 years ago, when a Dayton, Ohio, bicycle-shop owner navigated his muslin-covered, wooden-framed Flyer into a fierce North Carolina wind. Wilbur Wright’s 12-second, 120-foot flight on Dec. 17, 1903, was more like a hop, but it was enough to propel him and his brother Orville off the ground and into the history books — is the first to achieve sustained flight in a manned, heavier-than-air, powered craft.

For several years prior to the successful flight, the siblings had vacationed in Kitty Hawk, NC, chosen for its ideal climate for testing kites and gliders. Flying had become their obsession: “For some years I have been afflicted with the belief that flight is possible to man,” Wilbur once wrote. “My disease has increased in severity and I feel that it will soon cost me an increased amount of money, if not life.”

On the centennial of the Wrights’ achievement, Kitty Hawk will celebrate with five days of festivities, including skywriting competitions, a 100-member skydiving team and appearances by flight celebrities such as Chuck Yeager. The celebration culminates in a reenactment of The 12 Seconds That Changed History. Tickets, schedules and information are at <>, or call (800) 973-7327.

While you’re visiting North Carolina’s Outer Banks, explore other nearby historic sites, such as Roanoke Island. Sir Walter Raleigh established the New World’s first English colony there in 1584, only to have it mysteriously disappear in 1587. Roanoke Island Festival Park, a 27-acre cultural center, brings Colonial history to life with the interactive Roanoke Island Adventure Museum, an art gallery and the Elizabeth II sailing ship.

For more information, call the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau at (800) 446-6262 or visit <>. Read about other celebrations of the Wrights’ aviation triumph at <>.

From the December 2003 Family Tree Magazine