"The Coin Toss" - "Airborne" - "Wright Monument" - "Beginning To Beyond"
“On December 14th 1903, the coin toss established the order in which the Wright brothers would attempt to fly.”
December 14, 1903 was a warm, sunny day with no wind. At one o’clock in the afternoon, Wilbur and Orville Wright finished their last adjustments on the Flyer. They placed a red flag on the side of the camp wall, signaling the men at the US Lifesaving Station at Kill Devil Hills half a mile away for their help. The Lifesavers who responded were John T. Daniels, Bob Wescott, Tom Beachman and William Dough. Along with them came “Uncle Benny” O’Neal, a young boy, Adam Ethridge, and another child with a dog.
The seven men pushed the Flyer up Kill Devil Hill by leap-frogging the four 15-foot rails. Wilbur and Orville left the seven people by the Flyer as they walked down to the camera. Orville checked the apparatus and then moved over to Wilbur where they said a prayer. Wilbur took a coin out of his vest pocket, and the two men watched as he tossed the coin into the air. The coin landed in Wilbur’s favor. They returned to the top of the hill, and Wilbur climbed onto the Flyer.
The engine was started. The noise frightened the two children so badly that they ran away with the dog and did not return. With Orville holding its right wing, the Flyer started down Kill Devil Hill. The speed of the craft caused Orville to relinquish his hold after 35 feet. Forty feet down the rail, the Flyer started to lift. Wilbur pulled back quickly, causing the Flyer to climb too steeply and then stall. It crashed on its right wing. The flight of 3.5 seconds and a distance of 18 inches was not long enough to count. Wilbur was not hurt, and the Flyer was repaired in three days.
The painting illustrates the living conditions inside Wilbur and Orville’s camp in 1903. The workshop at one end faced the living quarters at the other end. There was a kitchen, a sitting area with an old carbide can converted into a wood-burning stove, a dining table with chairs, and a washroom with wash stand and chamber. Their sleeping quarters were in a loft above the kitchen with a ladder between two suspended beds.
Wilbur described the temperature conditions in a letter to home as, “We have no trouble keeping warm at night. In addition to the classification of last year, to wit, 2, 3, and 4 blankets nights, we now have a 5 blanket nights and 5 blankets & 2 quilts. Next comes 5 blankets, 2 quilts & fire; then 5, 2, fire & hot-water jugs. This is as far as we have got so far. Next come the addition of sleeping without undressing, then shoes & hats, and finally overcoats. We intend to be comfortable while we are here.” (Freeman, Russell, The Wright Brothers: How They Invented the Airplane (young adult). 1991 (Holiday House, 1994).
First Powered Flight December 17, 1903 – Kitty Hawk/Kill Devil Hill, North Carolina. “None of the seven men on the dunes that day realized how much 120 feet and 12 seconds would change the world.”
It was the morning of December 17, 1903. The temperature at Kill Devil Hill, North Carolina was a chilly 34˚F. At 10:00 a.m., Wilbur and Orville Wright placed a red flag on the side of their camp to signal the U.S. Lifesaving Service Station one half mile away that they needed assistance.
Responding to the call were three Lifesavers, John T. Daniels, A. D. Ethridge, and W. S. Dough. Joining them on the walk to the Wright brother’s camp were W. C. Brinkley, a farmer from nearby Manteo, NC, and Johnny Moore, a 17-year old from Cholowee, NC, visiting the life-saving station. Together these men comprised the ground crew of the world’s first flight.
So the flight could not be declared as assisted by gravity, a 60 foot rail was placed on level sand near the camp. Orville set up a camera and told John T. Daniels to squeeze the bulb when the flyer made it past a stool being used as a marker. Wilbur instructed the rest of the ground crew to cheer for Orville so he would not be nervous. At 10:30 a.m., Orville started down the rail. Johnny Moore manned the left wing as Wilbur held the right. They ran with the plane letting go after approximately 30 feet. At 40 feet down the rail, the plane lifted gently skyward.
By the end of the rail, the flyer headed up to an initial altitude of 8 feet. Orville began to compensate the upward movement by making the plane turn briefly downward. Then the plane rose again this time between 10 and 12 feet above the sand, The flyer finally touched down after 120 feet and 12 seconds aloft. Awestruck by the historic moment, Johnny Moore ecstatically cried “Damn if it didn’t fly.”
The Flyer: Length – 21 ft. 1 in Wingspan – 40 ft. 4 in Weight -605 lbs Surfaces-Muslin covered ash frame Engine-12hp. Gasoline powered, 4 cylinders, 170 lbs
Other flights on Dec. 17, 1903 #2 Wilbur-12 sec, 175 feet #3 Orville-15 sec, 200 feet #4 Wilbur-59 sec, 852 feet.
“In commemoration of the conquest of the air by the brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright, conceived by genius and achieved by dauntless resolution and unconquerable faith”
Perched atop 90 foot high Big Kill Devil Hill, the pylon with sides ornamented with gigantic wings in bas-relief present the images of a gigantic bird about to take off from the hilltop. This triumph of engineering and a veritable architectural marvel is a fitting tribute to the modest brothers who gave the world the gift of flight.
Conceptual Design: In commemoration of the 25th anniversary of man’s first flight in a heavier-than-air machine, the memorial’s cornerstone was laid atop Kill Devil Hill on December 17, 1928. Months later the Quartermaster’s Corp of the U. S. Army set in motion plans for design and construction of a monument dedicated to the achievements of Wilbur and Orville Wright.
The memorial’s stainless steel doors are decorated with eight panels depicting man’s early attempts at mechanical flight, from the Greek legend of Icarus to early kites and balloons. Three niches in the interior were designed for the busts of Wilbur and Orville and for a model of the Wright Flyer.
The first floor interior is lined with pink granite from Salisbury, NC and the floor is black granite from Wisconsin. Carved in granite of the west wall is the following inscription: “From a point near the base of this hill, Wilbur and Orville Wright launched the first flight of a power driven airplane Dec 17, 1903.”
Inscribed on the east wall is a quotation from Pindar, the greatest lyric poet of ancient Greece, “The long toll of the brave is not quenched in darkness, nor hath counting the cost fritted away the zeal of the hopes. O’er the fruitful earth and athwart the sea hath passed the light of noble deeds unquenched forever.”
The second floor houses a stainless steel world map, the “First Twenty-five Years of Aviation.” Engraved by Rand-McNally, it depicts all historically significant airplane flights from 1903 until 1928. The map was removed in 1998 during restoration of the monument.
The monument is 61 feet with a base measuring 36 feet by 43 feet. Its foundation, shaped like a five-pointed star, mimics the foundation of the Statue of Liberty. The monument cost $285,000 to build. Work began on the monument in December 1931, and monument was re-dedicated in May 1998, when its beacon was re-lit.
The Monument was used briefly during WWII for an ultra-high frequency submarine monitoring system which was then moved to another location in Kitty Hawk.
From the cockpit of the BellXS-1 the Wright Brothers are seen achieving the first successful powered flight, and thus guiding humanity towards future horizons, past the moon, to the beyond.
In the short span of 100 years humankind has made many great advances in aviation. From Kitty Hawk, NC on December 17, 1903, the Wright brothers with the help of five North Carolinians flew the world’s first power-driven heavier-than-air machine in which they made free, controlled, and sustained flights.
On October 14, 1947 USAF Captain Charles “Chuck” Yeager, flew the Bell XS-1 to a speed of 1.06 mach, becoming the first pilot to break the speed of sound.
On July 20, 1969 Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were the first men to step on the moon, stepping onto another world from their lunar module, the Eagle.
In 1981, with the debut of the space shuttle, Columbia, humankind proved their ability to do “routine” trips to space and return to earth safely and more economically.
Now, with the space station, serviced and maintained by an international crew and orbiting the Earth, can humankind, from this position at the near edge of beyond, reach the far edge of beyond-in the future.
Marsha Mills in her painting entitled “Beginning to Beyond” paints her visual impression of the events along this skyward path to the beyond.
One begins with the view of the cockpit of the Bell XS-1 with its instruments depicting the flight conditions after Chuck Yeager broke Mach 1 (the speed of sound) and was descending back to earth. Through the cockpit windows one begins to see a collage of aviation events.
Looking “into the Past” off the pilot’s left shoulder, one can see the Wright brother’s first successful flight. Looking “at the present” in front of the pilot, one can see the Wright Monument. Looking “into the future” off to the pilot’s right. One can see the moon and beyond into outer space, humankind’s continuing challenge.