Hawk Moments: A Place Called Kitty Hawk
February 20, 2003 -
In August of 1900, while still running their bicycle business, the
Wright brothers were also beginning to construct their first
kite/glider…and searching for a favorable testing ground. Dayton
hardly qualified, since winds seldom reached the 12-15 mile per
hour strength they felt were necessary to fly and test the
machine. Frustrated, Wilbur wrote to Octave Chanute on May 13,
seeking his advice on a "suitable locality where I could
depend on winds of about fifteen miles per hour without rain or
too inclement weather." He also asked Chanute's views on his
idea of launching the kite/glider (perhaps manned) from a 150-foot
Wilbur Found The Wind-Swept
Dunes of Kitty Hawk Perfect For Testing.
In his reply, Chanute nixed the
idea of a tower launch as too dangerous. Better, he felt, to try
"preliminary learning on a sand hill and ambitious feats over
water." He suggested San Diego, California, and St. James
City, Florida, because both offered constant offshore winds,
although neither had the advantage of sand. Some other spot
"on the Atlantic coast," he felt, might be better.
Seeking solid information, Wilbur
wrote to the U.S. Weather Bureau in Washington, requesting
information on prevailing wind conditions in various parts of the
country. Chicago was windiest, but Wilbur preferred secluded
areas, and he discovered that the sixth-highest average wind in
the US (13.4 mph) had been recorded at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina,
which also offered a reasonable number of clear, rain-free days in
the fall, with occasional winds much above the average. When
Wilbur inquired the Kitty Hawk Weather Bureau, he received more
good news. In addition to favorable wind conditions, Kitty Hawk's
milewide beach included a bare hill 80 feet high with not a tree
or bush anywhere in sight.
A return letter from William Tate,
the Kitty Hawk postmaster, was even more enticing. Wrote Tate,
"If you decide to try your machine here & come, I will
take pleasure in doing all I can for your convenience &
success & pleasure & I assure you you will find a
hospitable people when you come among us." Wilbur needed no
more convincing. Kitty Hawk it would be.
On September 6, Wilbur made the
two-day trek by rail and boat to Kitty Hawk, located on the Outer
Banks. Orville soon followed and, like Wilbur, was amazed at the
three enormous mountains of sand named Kill Devil Hills just south
of town, which Orville remarked, "looked like the Sahara, or
what I imagine the Sahara to be."
That fall, and the next three
autumns after, the brothers would travel to the windswept dunes of
Kitty Hawk…where they painstakingly prepared, and were finally
able, to make history.
“Kitty Hawk Moment” is brought to you by EAA, whose Countdown
to Kitty Hawk program, presented by Ford Motor Company, includes
an exact flying reproduction of the Wright Flyer. It is the
centerpiece of EAA’s national tour during 2003, which will
conclude with a five-day celebration at Kitty Hawk, North
Carolina, where the Wright flyer will fly again at exactly 10:35
a.m. on Dec. 17, 2003, commemorating 100 years of powered flight.