DescriptionGazing out over the expansive dunes that constitute nearby Wright Brothers National Memorial, you might wonder what drew pioneering brothers Wilbur and Orville from Dayton, Ohio, to a windswept area of the Outer Banks to test their new-fangled gliders. There are several reasons. First and foremost, the flat terrain provided an ideal setting for takeoff and landing. The almost constant winds were an aid to sustained flight. There were no trees to veer into, and sand provided a softer landing—and thus a better chance of survival—in the event of a crash. And in 1903 this area was isolated and remote, providing privacy for the brothers' groundbreaking aerial achievements.
Flash forward more than a century later: Airplanes are an omnipresent fact of life, and it's been quite some time since the words “isolated” or “remote” could be used to describe Kitty Hawk. This beach resort is at the northern end of a row of rental properties that stretches south to Nags Head. North Carolina's ocean playground is famed for its scenic water vistas, miles of open beaches and off-the-beaten-track islands accessible only by ferry. The aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63)—decommissioned in 2009 at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Wash., after more than 48 years of service—and the Apollo 14 command module, nicknamed “Kitty Hawk,” are both named in honor of the town.
The Monument to a Century of Flight, about 3 miles north of Kitty Hawk on the US 158 bypass at Milepost 1, was created and dedicated in 2003. It consists of 14 wing-shaped pylons ranging in height from 10 to 20 feet, situated within a 120-foot orbit symbolizing the length of the Wright Brothers' first historic flight. Black granite panels commemorate 100 significant achievements that have occurred during aviation's first century.