Hills, Height, and Flight
by Nicole Carlozo -- June 5th, 2011
For the first time in a long time, my summer months won’t be filled with the museums, culture, and crowds of Washington, DC. So where do I venture on my first weekend at the Outer Banks? A museum, of course!
With my first week of work behind me, I set out this weekend to the Wright Brothers National Memorial. Albeit, it wasn’t much of a journey. The memorial sits less than 2 miles from my house within the limits of Kill Devil Hills, NC. However, the look of the memorial intrigued me, so I got in my car for the five minute drive north.
Before long I pulled up in front of a 90-foot grass-covered hill and looked up at the 60-foot memorial dedicated to the Wright brothers.
I hate to admit that I knew little about the Wright brothers prior to my visit. When I was younger, the thrill of science had yet to capture my interest, and I spent most of my time reading fantasy or historical fiction novels. I didn’t connect science and technology to storytelling or imagination. To that end, the accomplishments of inventors long past seemed unimportant, even if they were pivotal to flight as we know it today.
But when I walked into the Wright brothers’ museum, I was flooded with stories about the brothers, not as businessmen from Ohio, but as scientists and students of nature. They not only approached flight from the viewpoint of experimenters and bicyclists, but also spent hours upon hours watching birds in flight. They studied the use of wings and tail feathers in soaring and direction. Soon enough, they realized the importance of curvature to affect air pressure and generate lift.
Standing in front of a replica of their final plane, a park ranger began his speech with a few powerful words. “Hopes and dreams are wonderful things.”
He then spoke about the hopes, obstacles, setbacks, and triumphs of the Wright brothers – Wilbur and Orville. After much experimentation and trial-and-error, the brothers accomplished the world’s first controlled flight. A fourth flight attempt in December of 1903 yielded an 852-foot journey across the sand dunes of North Carolina.
Markers indicating the landing sites of all four flight attempts in December of 1903.
The ranger’s speech ended with a tour of the grounds and we walked along the long, curving pathways towards the site of takeoff. The area, much to my surprise upon arriving, no longer consists of sand dunes. With development along the coast, tidal flooding ceased and the dunes slowly disappeared. What was once sand soon became vegetated and the “hills” of Kill Devil Hills moved south, slowly disappearing over time. One hill remains, which was covered in grass to stabilize and preserve the landmark. Now the memorial sits atop it, marking “Kill Devil Hill,” where the brothers tested their gliders.
In just over 1 century, the area has changed upon recognition. As I stared across the vegetated land, I truly grasped the meaning of a changing coastline. The altered landscape not only offered an example of coastal fluctuations, but also of human influences.The ranger ended his tour with a discussion about the world’s best engineer – nature – and the birds that inspired the brothers’ aircraft. As he spoke, a black and white laughing gull circled above us and took off towards the monument. I soon followed suit, making my way across the cactus-covered grass and up the only remaining Kill Devil Hill.