Thousands expected for Wrights flight observance

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In this Dec. 17, 2017 photo, Wayne James, director of the Northeastern High School Band, leads the band during a performance at last year's observance of the anniversary of the Wright brothers' first successful powered flights, at the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills. James and the NHS band will again perform at this year's observance of the anniversary on Monday.


By Sandy Semans Ross

Thursday, December 13, 2018

KILL DEVIL HILLS — A dream birthed in Elizabeth City almost 100 years ago now draws thousands of visitors to the Outer Banks each year.

The late W.O. Saunders, publisher of the Independent newspaper in Elizabeth City, was looking for an idea in the 1920s to jump-start economic development on the Outer Banks.

He and Outer Banks developer Frank Stick agreed that a memorial dedicated to Wilbur and Orville Wright and the brothers’ first successful attempt at powered flight would draw visitors from near and far. Eventually, they created the Kill Devil Hills Memorial Association whose mission was to make the memorial a reality.

Stick enlisted the help of other developers to buy the property where the first flight happened and then, with the support of federal lawmakers and the public, federal creation of the Wright Brothers National Memorial was signed into law in 1927. It was built on the land that Stick and other developers donated and originally named the Kill Devil Hill National Memorial.

Ninety-one years later, Saunders and Stick’s efforts to honor the Wrights’ contributions to manned flight and draw visitors to the Outer Banks continue to bear fruit.

Aviation enthusiasts from around the world will gather at the Wright Brothers National Monument in Kill Devil Hills on Monday to celebrate the 115th anniversary of man’s first successful attempt to achieve powered flight. The event is hosted by the First Flight Society and the National Park Service, which manages the memorial site.

This year’s celebration of flight will honor mathematician Katherine Johnson, one of the African-American women who worked for years behind the scenes in the NASA program as depicted in the recent movie, “Hidden Figures.” Johnson calculated flight trajectories for Project Mercury and other missions during the space race.

Now 100, she will be represented at the ceremony by her daughter and grandson when senior curator of aeronautics at the Smithsonian, Tom Crouch, inducts her into the Paul E. Garber First Flight Shrine.

Keynote speaker for Monday’s event will be David E. Bowles, director of NASA's Langley Research Center in Virginia. He has worked at the NASA facility for more than 35 years and began his career researching advanced materials for use on aerospace vehicles for use in space.

The day’s events begin at 8:30 a.m., when Wayne James leads the Northeastern High School Band in a prelude band concert. The Elizabeth City high school has participated in the annual event for about four decades and James’ first involvement was as a student at the school. Since becoming band director at NHS, James has only missed two performances at the memorial. He said this event will in fact be his last: he plans to retire at the end of the school year.

The opening ceremonies, which begin at 8:45 a.m., include a welcome and the Pledge of Allegiance led by First Flight Society President Arthur Lamothe; the presentation of colors by Civil Air Patrol cadets, NC Wings; and performance of the National Anthem by the Echo of Heritage. Other opening events will include a wreath presentation by Darrell Collins of the 1902 Witness Descendants, a NASA tribute, and the Wright Brothers National Memorial Flyover.

The invention of powered flight laid the foundation for using aeronautics for transportation, war, and even space flight. But it also has helped spread hope, dropping aid supplies to disaster areas and bringing cheer to children.

On Friday, 98-year-old Gail Haverson, also known as The Candy Bomber, will fly into Manteo and let children tour the plane he used to drop candy to children in West Berlin when the then Soviet Union blockaded the city in 1948-49. In response, the U.S. and its Western allies, dropped supplies to the residents during what came to be called the Berlin Airlift. Later on Friday, Halverson also will be at the Dare Center in Manteo to talk about his flights during the Berlin Airlift.

Then on Sunday, Halverson will perform two flyovers of the Manteo airport, dropping candy to children. The first will be at 1 p.m. for kids ages 6 and younger and the second at 1:30 p.m. for those 7 and older. Santa will fly into the airport at 2 p.m. aboard the “Spirit of Freedom,” which was used for the Berlin airlifts. It will be open for tours until 5 p.m.