Wright Brothers Makeovers

Museums in Ohio and North Carolina are sharing the story of the Wright brothers with major makeovers less than eight weeks apart.

The National Park Service recently reopened the Wright Brothers National Memorial’s restored and enhanced visitor center at Kitty Hawk in North Carolina.

The nonprofit Dayton History in Ohio recently reopened its aviation center in Carillon Historical Park as the federally designated John W. Berry, Sr. Wright Brothers National Museum.

“This is an amazing year for the story and legacy of the Wrights,” said Alex Heckman, Dayton History’s vice president for museum operations. “Such nearly simultaneous openings of different museums dedicated to the same subject are uncommon, but the Wright story is anything but common.

Wilbur and Orville Wright lived in Dayton and built their first airplanes in their bicycle shop. They chose to make their first test flights at Kitty Hawk, on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, because it offered extra lift from steady winds and softer landings on sandy ground. Local residents welcomed them and often gave a hand as they tested a series of gliders between 1900 and 1903, leading up to the world’s first successful flights of a powered machine. On December 17, 1903, Wilbur and Orville Wright made four brief flights at Kitty Hawk with their first powered aircraft.

The two museums share another connection: the National Park Service. Dayton History’s museum is a privately owned and operated unit of the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park, a collection of several Dayton-area sites related to the Wright brothers. The park service owns and operates the Wright Brothers National Memorial at Kitty Hawk.

In fact, Dayton’s national park supported the development of new exhibits for the visitor center at Kitty Hawk. Edward Roach, the national park’s historian, and Ranger Ryan Qualls worked extensively with the national memorial’s staff and contractors to review the new exhibits as they were developed.

Qualls said the new exhibits replace ones made in the 1960s and tell a story that includes both Dayton and Kitty Hawk.

“The larger story is about individuals overcoming what seemed like insurmountable obstacles and are designed to help visitors relate the Wright brothers’ experiences to their own lives,” said Ranger Ryan Qualls.

Likewise, the Wright Brothers National Museum exhibits in Dayton include artifacts important to the Kitty Hawk story, including the camera that snapped the famous picture of Orville’s first powered flight. Its centerpiece, the original 1905 Wright Flyer III, flew in both places.

A Wright descendant, Amanda Wright Lane, serves on aviation history boards in both Ohio and North Carolina said local groups are working to cross-promote the story of the Wright brothers.

“They really understand it’s a bigger story” than either location alone, said Amanda Wright Lane of Columbus, Ohio.

Lane, a great-grandniece of the Wrights, is a voluntary trustee for the First Flight Foundation in North Carolina, which supports the national memorial, and several aviation heritage organizations in Ohio, including the National Aviation Heritage Alliance, whose partners include Dayton History and the national park.

“It’s a worldwide story,” Lane said. “Dayton and Kitty Hawk have both upgraded their facilities, and that’s fantastic.”

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