Wright Brothers National Memorial | PARK AT A GLANCE

Kill Devil Hill sand dune

Kill Devil Hill sand dune


Wright Brothers National Memorial commemorates the first manned, controlled, and powered air flight of a heavier-than-air machine (not a balloon) on December 17, 1903, by aviators Orville and Wilbur Wright. They made four attempts that day, and while all flights took off, it was the fourth that out-soared the others. Their Wright Flyer flew nearly 900 feet before crashing into the ground, putting an end to things for the day. Before it could be repaired, a wind caught it, flipping it over a number of times and damaging it beyond repair. The plane never flew again.

Orville and Wilbur Wright were living in Dayton, Ohio, and running a bicycle shop in the 1890s when they became caught up in the burgeoning aviation craze. Both were talented mechanically, honing their skills building bikes, printing presses, motors, and other mechanical devices. They began an active pursuit of flight in 1899. By the time they began, gliders had been around for some time, and Samuel Langley had flown a powered model airplane. The design of wings and engines had advanced quite far, but nobody could figure out how to control the crafts—many of those who had helped pioneer the glider had died in crashes. Thus, the main goal of the Wright Brothers was to master the ability to control an aircraft. Gliding experiments would be the key to advancing the technology, so they began a search for a site with lots of wind, a soft landing ground, and privacy. Their search brought them to Bodie Island, part of North Carolina’s Outer Banks, in 1900.

Based on reports from the U. S. Weather Bureau, the brothers wrote a letter to the Kitty Hawk weather station manager, J. J. Dosher, who assured them that there was plenty of wind and large expanses of beaches uninterrupted by trees or other obstacles, as well as plenty of very hospitable people. He also wrote of an 80 foot high sand dune from which the brothers could launch their gliders. The dune was Kill Devil Hill, and it would become the launching point for over 1,000 of the Wrights’ glider experiments (their eventual powered flight took off from level ground just below the dune).

Of course it is Kitty Hawk that is associated with the Wright Brothers and their first powered flight, but the address of the Memorial and airfield is the town of Kill Devil Hills. How did Kitty Hawk get all of the glory when in fact it lies four miles north of the actual launch site? Well, back in 1903 there was no such town as Kill Devil Hills—it was incorporated only in 1953. Kitty Hawk was the closest town to the Kill Devil Hill sand dune at the time.

The site of the first flight and Kill Devil Hill have been preserved since 1927, but it wasn’t until 1953 that it officially became the Wright Brothers National Memorial under the control of the National Park Service. Today, visitors to the park can start their exploration at the Visitor Center, which houses an exhibit area and the Flight Room where replicas of the Wrights’ glider and Flyer (the plane that used a gas-powered motor) are on display.

Outside on the airfield you can visit a replica of the Wright’s working quarters and airplane hanger; stand at the spot where their powered airplane took off; walk to the locations of all four landing spots of the December 17th flights; and hike to the top of Kill Devil Hill where an enormous granite monument to the Wright Brothers rests.


The Wright Brothers National Memorial is open every day except for Christmas from 9 AM to 5 PM. However, times can always change, so before making travel plans be sure to check the official Wright Brothers’ Operating Hours and Seasons web page for the latest schedule.


There is a fee to enter the park. For the latest prices, visit the park’s Fees and Passes web page.


Visitor Center
allow 1-2 hours

Touring the Airfield
allow 2 hours

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Last updated on March 23, 2020
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