Local News

Rain Dampens Schedule For First Flight Celebration

Posted December 15, 2003

— Driving rain, wind and the threat of thunderstorms threw a wet blanket over events Sunday at the celebration of the Wright brothers' first flight.

Still, like the brothers themselves -- who braved Outer Banks weather for four autumns before they found success -- aviation enthusiasts were drawn to Kill Devil Hills by the magic of flight.

Eleven-year-old Jake Dawe shrugged off a downpour to snap photos of the memorial pylon atop Kill Devil Hill and the four stones that mark the endpoint of each of the Wright brothers' four successful flights on Dec. 17, 1903.

"I don't care; this is great," Jake, from Bordentown, N.J., said.

Like many of the event's young visitors, he said he hopes to be a pilot.

The foul weather brought a flood watch for the region, and pathways and fields in the Wright Brothers National Memorial park turned into small streams.

The dedication of a new sculpture -- a gift from the state to the national park -- was postponed to Tuesday. Air shows were canceled, and other outdoor events were moved inside.

But some 6,300 festival visitors donned ponchos and parkas to see indoor exhibits by groups including NASA, the Air Force and the Experimental Aircraft Association, which is organizing a re-enactment of the Wrights' first flight on Wednesday, the 100th anniversary.

Kevin Kochersberger, a mechanical engineering professor from Rochester, N.Y., will be at the controls before a crowd that is to include President George W. Bush.

He understood what brought spectators to the site even in such foul conditions: "It's a pilgrimage."

As a participant in the re-enactment, he has talked to a number of visitors and realized "this means so much to the people who are here, who have thought about it -- clearly thought about it for years.

"Those that come here are fully aware of what the Wrights accomplished and excited to be partaking in the celebration," Kochersberger said.

Marcia Alcorn and her sons, Quent and Christian, walked to the park from the seaside cottage her parents have owned in Kill Devil Hills for 25 years.

They had tickets for the whole week, but had to go home to Richmond, Va., so the boys could go back to school on Monday.

"This was the last opportunity," she said as they shook water off their jackets at the entrance to the NASA pavilion. "We might turn around. ... Once we get here, it's hard to leave."

The boys -- 10-year-old Quent and 9-year-old Christian -- were determined to get another turn at a rocket-launching display they had scoped out Saturday. Then it was on to a simulator, where guests could climb into a contraption that allowed them to fly a computer-generated version of the 1903 Wright flyer.

Kevin Trizna tried his luck on the simulator but did not get very far.

"I crashed it," the 9-year-old said with a wry laugh as his grandfather took a turn. "I just couldn't steer that well. I kept tipping to the right, and I did it, I guess, a bit too much to the left, and I tipped to the left, and I tried to turn the plane around, and I couldn't turn it, and I crashed."

Unlike Quent and Christian, Kevin and his 8-year-old sister, Kate, planned to stay for the week. He said he will make up the lost time at school in Burke, Va., with an essay, "so I'm trying to get as many facts about the Wright brothers as possible."

That was fine with his grandmother, Dee.

"This happens only once in a hundred years," she said.

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