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Breakdown: Why the Wright Brother’s chose the city of Kitty Hawk for their first flight

December 17, 2021 marks the 118th anniversary of the Wright Brothers’ first flight
Published: Dec. 17, 2021 at 12:24 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - It was on this day in 1903 that Wilbur and Orville Wright made their famous flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Using their first powered aircraft, it was an experiment that would lead to the first practical fixed-wing aircraft. The initial flight lasted 12 seconds and covered 120 feet.

As you can imagine, weather and the National Weather Service both played important roles in the event.

Years leading up to their first flight, the Wright Brother’s set out in search for the best location to test their flying machine. Their journey brought them Kitty Hawk, North Carolina in 1900. Being located on the Mid-Atlantic coast, Kitty Hawk which seemed like a good candidate for the test flight as it was known for its regular breezes and soft sandy landing surfaces.

The Wright Brothers wrote to the National Weather Service, then known as the U.S. Weather Bureau, in Kitty Hawk, regarding the suitability of Kitty Hawk as test location for their first flight attempt.

They received a prompt and friendly reply from Joseph J. Dosher, who staffed the Weather Bureau office, which helped to convince them that Kitty Hawk was the best place to attempt their feat. Here is the response from Dosher to the Wright Brothers, written in August of 1900 shown below:

The Wright brothers chose the Kitty Hawk site based on a recommendation made by J.J. Dosher,...
The Wright brothers chose the Kitty Hawk site based on a recommendation made by J.J. Dosher, from the Weather Bureau office in Washington, D.C., who advised them of the area’s steady onshore winds and its open, treeless and soft, sandy landscape. (National Weather Service Newport/Morehead City, NC and the National Park Service)

From then on, Dosher maintained a good relationship with the Wright brothers for three years during their tests.

After years of unsuccessfully testing with gliders, Wilbur and Orville Wright made four brief flights at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina on December 17, 1903 with their first powered aircraft.

The flight-day weather was chilly and dry with temperatures in the lower 40s with winds reported around 20 to 27 miles per hour.

The brothers tried to wait until the weather improved but by 10 a.m. it had not, so they decided to try a flight anyway.

The Wright Brothers conduct the First flight, December 17, 1903, at Kitty Hawk, NC.
The Wright Brothers conduct the First flight, December 17, 1903, at Kitty Hawk, NC.(NWS)

The initial flight lasted 12 seconds and covered 120 feet.

They went back inside to warm up by a fire and then went back outside for three more flights.

The fourth and final flight proved their best. During that last flight, Wilbur piloted the Flyer for 59 seconds over 852 feet.

After the fourth test flight, a strong gust of wind blew the Flyer over, making it tumble and breaking it so severely that it would never be flown again.

Over the next several years, the Wright Brothers would continue perfecting their airplane designs, and in October 1911, Orville Wright returned to the Outer Banks again, to improve the aircraft and conduct tests for safety and stabilization with a new glider.

On October 24, he soared for nine minutes and 45 seconds, a record that held for almost 10 years, when gliding as a sport began in the 1920s.

On Dec. 1, 1918, the U.S. Weather Bureau issued its first aviation weather forecast. It was for the Aerial Mail Service route from New York to Chicago.

On May 20, 1926, Congress passed the Air Commerce Act, which included legislation directing the Weather Bureau to “furnish weather reports, forecasts, warnings, to promote the safety and efficiency of air navigation in the United States.”

The National Weather Service continues its support of the aviation industry today and issues almost 2,500 routine and amended aviation weather forecasts for 537 airports around the nation daily.

National Weather Service aviation forecasts help mitigate air traffic delays, and reduce weather-related aviation accidents.

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