In 1900, the Wrights began researching locations from which to begin their flying experiments. Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, a tiny coastal fishing village of approximately 300 people at the turn of the century, would come to suit their needs.
The Wrights desired a number of conditions in order to successfully experiment with controlled flight. First, they needed steady winds. Second, they needed an area with high sand dunes from which to glide. Third, they needed limited obstructions (trees, buildings, etc.) and, lastly, they needed isolation to experiment unencumbered.
Sept 10th 1900 – 3 days before arriving at Kitty Hawk – Wilbur wrote his father to explain his reasons for choosing the area:
I chose Kitty Hawk because it seemed the place which most clearly met the required conditions…At Kitty Hawk, which is on the narrow bar separating the Sound from the Ocean, there are neither hills nor trees, so that it offers a safe place for practice. Also, the wind there is stronger than any place near home and is almost constant.
Kitty Hawk’s average wind speed is 15 to 20 mph, ideal for the Wrights’ experiments. In 1900, the area was primarily sand flats and sand dunes, with only a smattering of man-made structures (the US Lifesaving Station, a weather station and post office, and a small amount of private homes), making the area ideal for the isolation they desired. In addition, the Kill Devil Hills, located four miles south of town, provided massive dunes from which to glide, and an abundance of sand to act as a cushion for crash landings.
September 13th 1900 – Wilbur Wright Arrives at Kitty Hawk aboard a fishing schooner.
September 24th 1900 – Orville Wright Joins his brother at Kitty Hawk
October 4th 1900 – the brothers set up their own camp a half-mile south of town, and began their experiments with their glider.
December 14th 1903 – Wilbur test piloted their ‘Flyer” but pulled up too sharply on take-off and stalled, damaging the plane.
December 17th 1903 – Orville took his turn at the controls. His first flight lasted 12 seconds for a total distance of 120 ft
– This paled in comparison to the October 5th flight of 1905 when Wilbur flew for 39 minutes over 24 miles, but a rather exciting first step.
Most of the information contained in this article was supplied by the United States National Park Service – in some cases, verbatim.