Insider’s look at the Wright Brothers National Memorial

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Several interactive exhibits help you understand the physical forces involved in aircraft lift and propulsion. Switch to a panel with three levers to learn about the three plane control axes – roll, pitch and yaw – which respectively affect how planes tilt from side to side, move from side to side, up and down and turn left or right. As you experiment with the levers, the little planes they control spin, roll, or change pitch, depending on the forces applied.

The famous photo of the brothers launching from these shores leads you to the other gallery – the Flight Room – where a life-size replica of their groundbreaking creation that started the world of aviation demands attention. Next, see the 19th-century sewing machine used to sew the fabric for the wings.

Themed “Making Impossible Possible,” the exhibit portrays the famous duo not only as brilliant minds, but also as average Americans dreaming of building a machine that can fly. “Part of what the museum exhibits hope to show is that Wilbur and Orville worked very hard; they came here again and again, solved problems and refused to give up,” says Elizabeth Hudick, ranger in charge of the park at the museum. “And that’s what made them successful over everything else.”

The museum also serves as the visitor center for the Wright Brothers National Memorial, which includes the surrounding 428 acres and a 60-foot-tall granite monument commemorating the brothers and their achievement. After visiting the museum, take one of the 30-minute ranger-led walks to see a replica of the original 1903 airmen’s camp buildings and the Flight Boulder, meaning the place where their flier took off, putting their names in the history books for the ages.

Ranger Tip: In the Exhibit Hall, be sure to gaze up at the ceiling for an entire lesson in aviation history floating above your head. You will see a series of metal aircraft, starting with simple glider machines and progressing to the modern space shuttle. “People tend to miss that,” Hudick says. “Usually it’s something people only see on their second or third visit.”

Other Outer Banks Attractions

Kitty Hawk Kites Hang Gliding School: If you’re adventurous, try flying in the wake of the Wright Brothers at this school, just 4 miles south of the museum on US 158 in nearby Nags Head. The instructors offer three-hour ($39) beginner and advanced hang-gliding lessons using kite-shaped gliders. Beginners complete several flights over the sand dunes, staying in the air for a few seconds each time and getting better and more confident with each lap. You fly solo, with instructors on the ground protecting you by using ropes to control your kite. Only those taking advanced courses take longer flights. Reservations required.

Fort Raleigh National Historic Site: Visit this historic site (free admission) on Roanoke Island, just 18 miles southwest of the museum on US 158 and US Highway 64. It preserves the captivating history of the first European settlement in America , settled here in 1585. Hear the history of the settlers in a 17-minute film at the Visitor Center, then tour the fort grounds and archaeological digs. The first European child born on American soil was born here, shortly before the settlers mysteriously vanished, leaving no trace and believed to have met a tragic fate. Adjacent to the site, also explore the Elizabethan Gardens ($8). In the early 1950s, a group of historians and philanthropists created the 2-acre Botanical Gardens to symbolize what settlers might have done with the land had they not perished. The gardens remain beautiful in most seasons.


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