October 5, 2003
K ILL D EVIL H ILLS, N.C.—An all-new Pilot Facility, sponsored by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association on behalf of its members, is now open to assist the nation's pilots who visit the birthplace of powered flight during its centennial year. AOPA donated the funds to construct the 900-square-foot Pilot Facility at the Wright Brothers National Memorial at Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina.
Despite threatening weather to the north and south of First Flight Airfield (FFA), several hundred pilots and visitors from around the country (one from as far as California) flew into the park and nearby Dare County Regional Airport at Manteo to attend the grand-opening ceremonies May 10. Speeches, hot dogs, and tours of the Pilot Facility and historical park were the highlights of the day.
"As a 64-year-old organization, AOPA was looking for something that was lasting, that serves our members, and sends us into the next century of powered flight," AOPA President Phil Boyer told the crowd of more than 200 pilots. "Let's have a round of applause for the nearly 400,000 AOPA members who have made this first-class facility possible."
Boyer was introduced by Wright Brothers National Memorial superintendent Lawrence Belli, who thanked AOPA members for their contribution to the park.
The Pilot Facility is the only permanent structure built at the historic site to remain following this year's celebrations of the 100th Anniversary of Powered Flight. The building is designed to last more than 50 years with minimal maintenance.
Built in coordination with the National Park Service and First Flight Centennial Foundation, the facility includes a dedicated pilot briefing room complete with a computerized Meteorlogix MxVision AviationSentry weather briefing system and a second computer equipped with Jeppesen FliteStar route planning software and access to AOPA Online, as well as wall-mounted navigation charts and workspace for flight planning.
The facility is located adjacent to the 3,000-foot First Flight Airfield and provides rest rooms and space for an air tour concession. Previously, the only structures to greet arriving pilots were a phone-booth shack and porta-potties.
Deputy FAA Administrator Robert A. Sturgell told the crowd that the new facility represented "what AOPA is all about, supporting the general aviation community." He noted that members should not only be proud of the facility, but also proud "of the work AOPA does day in and day out for pilot safety, training, and development." He said that the FAA "values its partnership with AOPA and the work we do together."
Sturgell, who is a former naval aviator and airline pilot, said, "Pilots can't help but be reflective when they visit this site. There isn't a lot of difference between what Wilbur experienced that first flight and what every pilot experiences on their first solo. We must never lose that spirit of flight."
Adm. Ferg Norton, executive director of the First Flight Centennial Foundation, said that AOPA had "flown solo" in sponsoring the project and expressed the gratitude of the foundation. "This facility is so much like AOPA," he said. "It is simple, efficient, and attractive. It admirably serves the needs of aviators, and it will do much to attract transient pilots to this special place."
During the ceremony, Boyer unveiled the bronze AOPA recognition plaque that he and Superintendent Belli later mounted on the exterior of the building. The plaque notes that the Wright Brothers National Memorial Pilot Facility is "a gift from the members of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, ensuring aviation's future."
But the day wasn't all just speeches. Every attending pilot received a special, limited-edition hat commemorating the dedication ceremony. Dan Collier of Manassas, Virginia, was the winner of the AOPA Centennial of Flight Sweepstakes leather bomber jacket.
AOPA's recognition of the Wright brothers' 100th anniversary includes the Pilot Facility as well as exclusive centennial editorial coverage in AOPA Pilot magazine and AOPA's ongoing Centennial of Flight Sweepstakes, which gives winning members the chance to experience monthly flights in a Waco biplane and the ultimate prize of winning a rebuilt 1940 Waco three-seater biplane.
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