Wright Brothers National Memorial North Carolina is a National Park Site on the east coast of North Carolina which commemorates the first motorized flight. In an area with lots of 200 to 400 year old areas to discover on road trips, this site was refreshing. While still more than a hundred years ago, I feel like we could relate to Orville and Wilbur Wright better. We love flying, so airplanes are something easier to dive into. This is a great “physical” site as you get to see the models and run the tracks and climb up to the monument. It’s not just another history lesson in disguise. Well, it is. But it’s a fun one!
Where: Kitty Hawk is the name of the coastal town in the Outer Banks of North Carolina which is close to Kill Devil Hills; 2 hours southeast of Williamsburg, 1 hour 20 min east of Norfolk, Virginia
Cost: Adult $10, Kids free up to age 15 – You pay at the entrance booth to enter the park. Able to buy a year pass here to all national parks if desired.
Time: 2-3 hours
Hours of Operation: Sunday to Saturday, 9AM to 5PM
Mom Score: 4.5/5
Kid Score: 4.0/5 – Lower marks because Mom made them do the Junior Ranger badge.
Best Part: Getting up close to the replica flyer in the Visitor’s Center. Ask the ranger to show you how the wings twist.
Worst Part: Crowd
Orville and Wilbur Wright were brothers from a large family who grew up in Dayton, Ohio. While working at a bicycle shop while growing up, they became interested in flight and combined their experience working with bicycles to learn to construct and maneuver their glider. While they were not the first people to ever fly, they were the first to create a motor propelled flying machine which flew four times on December 17, 1903. The quote on the Wright Brothers’ monument states “conceived by Genius, achieved by Dauntless Resolution and Unconquerable Faith.” Their determination, ingenuity, and tireless tinkering should inspire inventors young and old.
At the time of their multiple trips from Ohio spanning from 1900 to 1903, Kitty Hawk was only a tiny town famous for its constant wind which they needed for lift for their glider. The land was covered in sand dunes which provided height from which they could glide. This collection of sand dunes was named Kill Devil Hills. Repeatedly, these famous brothers and their assistants launched more than 1000 times from the dunes.
Over time, the dunes have eroded and shifted. Today, the monument stands atop the largest dune which has been stabilized; there are no current sand dunes at the monument.
Visitor Center – Covering the history of flight before Orville and Wilbur Wright, the museum gives a good background of the Wright family and their stages of developing their fliers. Next to the full size replica of their motorized plane are miniature models of their different flyer versions for comparison. Take an opportunity to learn the different terms involved in flight here while seeing what part of the plane controls each direction.
Monument – You can drive down the road to the monument or walk from the VC, but either way, you have to climb the stairs to the top to see the monument. Don’t forget to look at ground level on the opposite side from the VC to see the statue.
Statue – This is a full-size replica of the famous 1903 picture which shows the Wright brothers, their assistants, and the photographer capturing the photo. This is a statue that allows touching and climbing. Get up there with the Wright brother and hang on.
Reconstructed 1903 Camp Buildings – At this workshop and hangar replica, you can peek inside to examine the living conditions and see the determination of these famous brothers.
Flight Plaques – These four markers measure the distance of their flight trials. See if you can run faster than the original flight.
At this time, the flow through the Visitor Center museum is one directional and, when crowded, the rangers are controlling the number of people in the museum. With this in mind, prepare to wait outside the building until there is room for you to go inside. If you want to go to the bookstore, you need to do that when you go in the museum.
This is a popular site that gets crowded. Go earlier in the day or during the week for fewer people.
Head to the plane statue before the crowds hit, so your kids can climb up and lay down next to Orville for a perfect picture without other people nearby.
The only bathroom is connected to the outside of the visitor center. Go before you get in line, so you don’t lose your place or have to leave the visitor’s center altogether.
It’s very windy throughout and most brisk on top of the hill at the monument; bring your jacket.
It’s a long, paved path to the monument. Prepare the family for some walking or bring your stroller for the little ones.
Wright-brothers.org – Here you will find a fully-online museum dedicated to the Wright Brothers with a very large collection of information covering the history of aviation and airplanes.
On the official website for the memorial, there are lesson plans as well as an overall guide to the NPS site.
- America’s National Parks – Kitty Hawk
- History Unplugged – Wright Brothers, Wrong Story
- Reading Bug Adventures – An Airplane Adventure Part 1 and 2
- Historical Figures – The Wright Brothers
Side note, I haven’t gotten to any of these yet! Most of my pre-learning came from reading the kid books with them.
- David McCullough – The Wright Brothers- nonfiction
- The Wright Sister: A Novel – historical fiction
- Dawn over Kitty Hawk – historical fiction
- Birdmen: The Wright Brothers – nonfiction
- Miracle at Kitty Hawk
- The Flyers: In Search of Wilbur and Orville Wright – nonfiction
Completion of the packet involves quite a few stations throughout the Visitor Center, examining the replica, running at the time stations outside, and looking at carvings at the monument. While some Junior Ranger packets at other parks seem either silly or too complex, this one was good because it talked them through the mechanics of flight and how it works into the gliders. Lots of hands-on thinking. I truly feel the kids learned a lot through this program here with a good amount of hands on experience.
Ironically, I couldn’t find a lot of books before our trip, but now they seem to be everywhere. We will be going back and reading them to refresh our learning.
- First Flight: The Story of Tom Tate and the Wright Brothers by George Shea– This was a good book for introduction as it is easily read and revolves around the real-life story of a boy who helped with the Wrights. You will learn more about him and his father at the museum.
- The Story of the Wright Brothers by Annette Whipple
- To Fly: The Story of the Wright Brothers by Wendie Old
- The Wondrous Whirligig by Andrew Glass
- Taking Flight: The Story of the Wright Brothers by Stephen Krensky
- The Wright Brothers’ First Flight by Thomas Kingsley Troupe
- Touching the Sky: The Flying Adventures of Wilbur and Orville Wright by Louise Borden and Trish Marx
- First to Fly: How Wilbur and Orville Wright Invented the Airplane by Peter Rusby
- How did they get their planes to Kitty Hawk from Ohio?
- Why Kitty Hawk? Can you think of any other places you’ve been that might be your choice to try to fly?
- Who were some other famous pilots to come later?
- What did they study to prepare them for their plane success?
- How are modern planes controlled similarly or differently than the Wright’s plane?
- What are the directions of flight: yaw, pitch, and roll
- Do people still use gliders today?
- What do Neil Armstrong and the Wrights have connecting them?
- How to telegraphs like those they used send a message home?
- Could you get along with your brother well enough to accomplish such a feat?!
Fort Raleigh National Historic Site – Only 30 minutes from Kitty Hawk in Manteo, North Carolina. This is where mystery of the Lost Colony of Roanoke begins. Visit the Visitor Center, see the play in non-pandemic times, visit an the Underground Railroad site, and learn about it’s role in the Civil War.
Visit the beach – There are lots of easy to reach beach access free parking lots throughout the area only five minutes outside the park entrance.
Jockey’s Ridge State Park in Nags Head – Go visit the tallest active sand dune area in the eastern US. Read about how it is naturally still shifting and even getting too close to houses.
Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in DC – Go see the original 1903 Wright flyer
Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historic Park – Dayton, Ohio