Why North Carolina is First in Flight

Learn about why North Carolina is known as 'First In Flight' due to Wilbur and Orville Wright's historic first powered flight at Kitty Hawk.

Why North Carolina is First in Flight

For its part, North Carolina has a license plate design that proudly proclaims “First in Flight”, paying homage to the first successful manned flight that took off the ground with its own strength. This momentous event occurred in 1903, after the Wright brothers tested their invention on Kitty Hawk on the Outer Banks. The brothers had been inspired by the flight of pigeons near Dayton in July 1899.Wilbur theorized that the tips of their wings allowed them to direct their movements in the air. Tilting one wing upwards increased the wind in its lower part; simultaneously, tilting the other wing downwards increased the wind in its upper part.

This enabled the bird to turn, rise and descend at will. The question then became whether these movements could be mechanically duplicated. A few days later, Wilbur was fiddling with a cardboard box in his bike shop. Idly pressing the corners of the long sides of the box at one end and those of the short sides at the other, he noticed that this distortion of the box mimicked the action of pigeon wings.

He quickly built a model biplane glider to test if altering its wings in flight would control it. Flying the glider like a kite, he found that ropes tied to the wings (cambered ones like Lilienthal's) could manipulate the plane. This, he realized, was the key to a heavier-than-air flight.The brothers then set about breaking virtually all existing glider records. A Wilbur flight in October 1902 covered 622 feet in 21 seconds, and both distance and time set American records.

To achieve these results, they enlisted the help of a large number of outside bankers who helped prepare takeoff sites, launch gliders, build hangars and housing, bring materials for experiments, and send and receive messages.Bill Tate's brother Dan was the only paid employee of the Wrights. For its part, North Carolina boldly declared its claim a few years ago with license plates that held First in Flight. It was followed by Ohio's claim of being the birthplace of aviation a few years later. In response, North Carolina returned to act first by placing the steering wheel in its state neighborhood, which took away a lot of momentum from Ohio's Pioneers of Flight motto.Kitty Hawk, North Carolina appeared in history books 115 years ago as it was here that Orville piloted the first controlled and propelled aircraft to fly.

He traveled 120 feet and flew about 10 feet above the ground. Wilbur and Orville flew twice more that day, traveling approximately 175 and 200 feet during each flight.According to the Wright Brothers National Memorial, it was the first time that a manned machine, heavier than air, left the ground by its own force, advanced under control without losing speed, and landed at a point as high as the point from which it departed. The extraordinary flight provoked an uncomplicated public response.The brothers would continue to improve their techniques and inspire other aviators around the world. You can visit the exact spot where they jumped into history books at Kitty Hawk National Park or learn more about their story on Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum website.In 2003, a variety of celebrations commemorating the 100th anniversary of their achievement took place throughout North Carolina.

North Carolina license plates read “First in Flight” while license plates across Ohio bear “Birthplace of Aviation” as their motto.While Wilbur and Orville Wright chose Kitty Hawk for their first flight, they didn't call North Carolina home. Connecticut celebrates Gustave Whitehead's story which Ohio officially repudiates after establishing a truce with North Carolina by honoring Wright brothers' achievement.

Thelma Dorinirl
Thelma Dorinirl

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