Muslims have Mecca, Jews have the Western Wall and Christians have the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The aviator’s holy site is First Flight Airport (KFFA) containing the Wright Brothers Memorial. The memorial is a 60-foot granite pylon sculpture sitting on a star-shaped base at the top of a lush green hill. It’s the place honoring the Wright Brothers and their 1903 first sustained heavier-than-air flight. Every pilot should take the pilgrimage at least once and what better time to visit than in December, the anniversary month of Orville and Wilbur’s historic accomplishment.
The approach to the uncontrolled First Flight Airport takes you down the coast and out over the Outer Banks and Albemarle Sound. Don’t let the gorgeous ocean view and the sun glistening off of the visitor’s center roof mesmerize you into complacency. Be vigilant. Trees flanking the airstrip on downwind and base obscure the runway until turning final. Additionally, banner towing airplanes, unexpected wind shear and an occasional deer hanging out perilously close to the touchdown zone make this 3,000-foot runway dangerous. Judging by the various skid marks it seems a number of aviators needed to call their insurance agents.
Once the wheels touch down, taxi back to transient parking on the south side of the field. Tie-down and head to the AOPA-donated pilot facility. It’s the perfect rest area. The clean, handicapped accessible, 900-square-foot facility is a well-equipped pilot lounge that includes a rest room and all the amenities an aviator needs.
First Flight Airport is a U.S. National Park that encompasses the memorial commemorating the actual first flight. The towering monument looks out over a sprawling field containing the “first flight trail” granite markers – the takeoff and landing spots of each flight. To the west of the markers are the reconstructed camp buildings, workshop and hanger that those two bicycle mechanics from Ohio occupied while conducting their tests. North of the monument, housed in a mission-style architecture building, is the Wright Brothers Visitor Center and Museum. It’s worth the $4 entrance fee to the park to view replicas of the 1903 historic powered airplane (the original is housed in the Smithsonian Institute), the1902 glider along with various tools and machines used by the brothers. The museum is a thought-provoking journey through aviation history that also includes Wilbur’s Kenwood sewing machine and a portion of the engine used in the first flight.
A 20-minute walk from the Wright Brothers Memorial is the Outer Banks Brewing Station. The first thing one notices when approaching the grounds is the 80-foot-tall, 3-blade wind turbine gently capturing nature’s free power source. This is after all America’s first wind powered brewery and brew pub. Enter and it feels as if you just stepped onto the beach. The Brewing Station is a bit of an enigma. It’s comforting and relaxing yet this place rocks out most weekend nights when bands and DJs supply live entertainment.