Pilots don’t need much of a reason to visit the aviation Mecca of First Flight at Kill Devil Hill, N.C., but if you do, consider that the famed Kitty Hawk monument on top of the sand dune was recently refurbished, including the addition of dramatic lighting to show off the winged obelisk and its beacon at night. The refurbishment effort earned the First Flight Foundation a $20,000 award from the National Aviation Hall of Fame. The Combs-Gates award, underwritten by aviation pioneer Harry Combs and his partner John Gates, is meant to encourage and support relevant aviation history research and preservation efforts.
The Wright Brothers National Memorial first opened in November 1932, sitting on 425 acres at the site of most of the Wright brothers’ glider experiments and their first historic powered flights made in December 1903. The mission of the First Flight Foundation project was to work in cooperation with the National Park Service to identify and assist with physical improvements to the Wright Brothers National Memorial, with an overall objective to enhance the visitor experience.
In 1995, the First Flight Centennial Commission created what is now known as the First Flight Foundation, as a private, nonprofit fund raising organization. The National Park Service then conducted an assessment of the monument and found it to be in critical need of repair. The first ever restoration of the pylon was finished in 1997, in time for the First Flight Centennial Celebration in Kitty Hawk on Dec. 17, 2003.
The monument’s new facelift, the first in over a decade, was completed in June of this year as part of a new partnership agreement with the National Park Service. The extensive work included interior and exterior cleaning and repair, waterproofing, and replacement of electrical systems, including new lighting to highlight the monument’s beauty. Additional improvements include HVAC upgrades and climate control; refurbishment of fixtures, doors, and the working beacon; and establishment of a first-ever maintenance plan that will ensure the monument’s upkeep and public accessibility, and preserve its historical integrity well into the future.
Pilots can land next to the site at the First Flight Airport (FFA), a day-use airport. AOPA funded a pilot facility at the site in honor of all AOPA members for the 100th anniversary of flight in 2003. AOPA member and National Park Service volunteer Kenneth Pagurek monitors the pilot facility.