A second replica of one of the state’s most important artifacts has a temporary home in the lobby of the N.C. Museum of History while its permanent one undergoes extensive renovations.
A reproduction of the Wright brothers’ 1903 Flyer, on loan from the Wright Brothers National Memorial Visitors Center in Kill Devil Hills, now hangs 12 feet above the reception desk in the museum – the same altitude the real one achieved during its first flight. The flyer will remain in Raleigh until the summer of 2018, when renovations to the visitors center are expected to be completed.
The museum already has one reproduction of the flyer, hanging in the Story of North Carolina section. The museum is expanding the Wright brothers exhibit there on Saturday, Dec. 17, the 113th anniversary of the first flight, with several other artifacts, including airfoils the brothers used in their wind tunnel experiments and the shovel used in the 1931 groundbreaking ceremony for the Wright Brothers National Memorial.
“We’re really excited to be able to talk about all their contributions to flight,” said John Campbell, collections manager for the museum. “It starts with them.”
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The museum’s lobby already had a reproduction of the glider that Orville Wright and British aviator Alexander Ogilvie flew at Kill Devil Hills in 1911. It now hangs above the larger 1903 Flyer, which was powered by a 12-horsepower engine that is visible from the balconies above.
The original Wright Flyer is on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., but the reproduction from Kitty Hawk has its own history. It was donated to the national memorial in Kill Devil Hills on Dec. 17, 2003, the centennial of the Wright brothers’ first powered flight, by the late Harry Combs. Combs is a member of the National Aviation Hall of Fame who trained pilots in World War II and was instrumental in the creation of the nation’s air traffic control system.
Combs designed and built the model, along with Ken Hyde, now president of the Wright Experience, which is devoted to documenting the history of the Wright brothers. Hyde said the example set by Wright brothers has been invaluable to those interested in aviation.
“We’ve researched that airplane at the Wright Experience for years trying to learn everything we possibly can so we can learn what they did to be the first to fly,” Hyde said. “They really had a feel for what they needed to do and how to make it happen.”
Hyde said a crucial part of the brothers’ early flight experiments was transporting their models back and forth between their home in Dayton, Ohio, and Kitty Hawk. They perfected a process, getting assembly time down to three to four hours, that has been used to transport various kinds of aircraft by ground ever since, Hyde said.
“We can’t improve on that,” he said.
Their technique was to separate the aircraft into three major parts: the wings, the rudder and the skids on the front.
“We have to take more precaution than they did,” Hyde said. “They didn’t mind if they poked a hole in the fabric – it was just a test bed. It takes about a day to get it ready to put it in a truck and another day putting it back together.”
Ken Howard, director of the N.C. Museum of History, said there were several locations that the Kitty Hawk flyer could have ended up, such as Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, Va., Kennedy Space Center in Florida or in storage.
“I liked the idea of keeping it in North Carolina and the fact that it would still be on display,” Howard said.
Gavin Stone: 919-829-4520
N.C. Museum of History
The museum will be closed Thanksgiving, but is otherwise open its regular hours, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free. Information: ncmuseumofhistory.org