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Celebrate aviation at First Flight AirportCelebrate aviation at First Flight Airport

Kill Devil Hills, North CarolinaKill Devil Hills, North Carolina

Whitecaps crashing onto the North Carolina shoreline were a clue that my inaugural First Flight Airport landing at the Wright Brothers National Memorial would be sportier than anticipated.

  • The Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, and the adjacent First Flight Airport are bucket-list stops for aviators. Photo by David Tulis.
  • The Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, showcases a new visitors center, interactive exhibits, and additional bicycle building background information on the brothers who pioneered powered flight. Photo by David Tulis.
  • Visitors to First Flight Airport at the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, can sign a guest book and hand-stamp their pilot logbook inside a pilot facility donated by AOPA members to commemorate the 100th anniversary of powered flight. Photo by David Tulis.
  • A small museum occupies part of the Dare County Regional Airport in Manteo, North Carolina, just across Roanoke Sound from First Flight Airport. Photo by David Tulis.
  • Colorful houses line the dunes at Nags Head, North Carolina, near the birthplace of powered aviation. Photo by David Tulis.
  • The owner of Owens' Restaurant in Nags Head collects Coast Guard uniforms and other naval items that are on display for diners. Make sure to sample some fresh seafood but save room for dessert. Photo by David Tulis.
  • Aviators recommended a lunch stop at O'Neal's Sea Harvest because fishing boats unload their daily fresh catch at docks right behind the facility. Photo by David Tulis.
  • Aviators recommended O'Neal's Sea Harvest for the freshest seafood including this fried shrimp basket, but remember to arrive before the kitchen closes at 3:30 p.m. The market unloads seafood from boats that tie up to docks behind the facility and employees will pack fresh fish for transport home. Photo by David Tulis.
  • A ship is moored at Roanoke Island Festival Park in Manteo, North Carolina. Photo by David Tulis,
  • Breakfast at Darrell's Restaurant in Manteo, North Carolina, is mandatory during a visit to the Outer Banks area near First Flight Airport. Photo by David Tulis.
  • Shorebirds huddle against a 30-mile-per-hour wind as waves crash behind them at Nags Head, North Carolina, near the Wright Brothers National Memorial on the Outer Banks. Photo by David Tulis.
  • Blue Water Grill and Raw Bar in Pirates Cove at Manteo, North Carolina, posts daily specials online and has a variety of local oysters prepared fresh on the half-shell, steamed, or fried. Photo by David Tulis.
  • The Christmas Shop and General Store is a year-round draw for North Carolina Outer Banks visitors. Photo by David Tulis.

AOPA Live video producer Josh Cochran and I had circled the 60-foot-tall granite monument at Kill Devil Hills for photos and videos before we pointed our Cessna 182 back out over the Atlantic Ocean and lined up for Runway 21.

A stiff northwest autumn breeze at 18 knots gusting to 28 knots left the airwaves and airways mostly silent during our trip from AOPA headquarters in Frederick, Maryland, to the Wright Brothers National Memorial on the coastline. Park rangers reminded us that the brothers chose the spot for its consistent winter wind so the inventors could tinker with their flying machines in the off season away from their bicycle-building business.

Aviation has come a long way since Orville and Wilbur Wright battled that 27-mph ocean breeze in their 605-pound wood-and-fabric machine on Dec. 17, 1903, but the same squirrely Kitty Hawk crosswinds surprised us on short final for the 3,000-foot-long paved strip adjacent to the monument.

A youth explores the 60-foot monument at Kill Devil Hills at the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. A new visitors center, interactive exhibits, and a look at their bicycle building background await visitors to the Outer Banks memorial. Photo by David Tulis.

We mastered the landing without damaging our pride. Touching down in the shadow of history brought smiles to our faces—and renewed our respect for the pioneers who dedicated their lives to advancing aviation for future generations.

After we tied down the Skylane, we ran into Van’s Aircraft RV–6A pilot Doug Degange, visiting from San Diego, and he put the moment in perspective. After touring the facility and its newly reopened and modernized visitor’s center, he said, “It kind of choked me up because this is where it all started. Every pilot should come and do this.”

Fresh Seafood

Fresh seafood is an attraction all along Carolina’s Outer Banks, and the Kitty Hawk/Nags Head/Manteo area is no exception. Dare County airport employee Tucker Walker’s suggestions for visiting pilots were on point and did not break the bank.

O’Neal’s Sea Harvest in Wanchese has a slogan that suggests diners “skip the middle men” and “get your seafood where it is caught, cleaned, and cooked.” I ordered a fried shrimp basket with cole slaw and fried okra on the side, and it was fresh, light, and inexpensive at $10.25. Visit the docks behind the restaurant if you want to watch your meal motor in on a fishing boat.

Darrell’s Seafood Restaurant in Manteo served up a delicious and inexpensive breakfast and is open for lunch and dinner, too. Try the open-faced chicken biscuit with sausage gravy for $6.99 and be prepared to skip lunch! Salads, fresh fish, steaks, and burgers are also available later in the day.

Owens’ Restaurant in Nags Head was our dining extravaganza. An extensive wine list, crackers with a rich cheese spread, hushpuppies, and a bountiful Carolina Blue Salad wedge were a few unexpected highlights. Trust me on this—order the Carolina Bouillabaisse or the fresh catch of the day—and save room for items on the sinfully delicious dessert tray.

Stripers Bar and Grille in Manteo was closed for the Thanksgiving holidays when we visited the area, but Walker said, “Pilots fly in here just to eat their Rockfish Reuben sandwich” on Ciabatta bread with homemade slaw. The facility overlooks the bay and has live music during the spring and summer.

Blue Water Grill and Raw Bar in Manteo’s Pirates Cove posts daily specials online and has a variety of local oysters prepared fresh, steamed, or fried. I ordered a half-dozen raw plump and meaty Devil Shoals oysters from Ocracoke Island and added an oyster and spinach salad that was so large that I couldn’t finish it. Diners in the know go for half-priced draft beer specials on Wednesdays or half-priced wine specials on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Sadly, family-owned Basnight’s Lone Cedar Cafe had shifted to winter hours so we missed the farm-to-table seafood and live entertainment options that locals raved about. We heard great things about the Sunday brunch menu’s seafood crepes, farmer’s frittata, and Wanchese clam chowder.

Flying into FFA

The 3,000-foot-long paved Runway 03/21 at First Flight Airport is in excellent shape and frames the western side of the Wright Brothers National Memorial. The 900-square-foot First Flight pilot facility adjacent to the ramp was a gift from AOPA members to help commemorate the 100th anniversary of powered flight. Pilots can make use of the Wi-Fi for flight planning, relax on a comfortable couch, use the restroom facilities, and eat at picnic tables. However, there is no fuel or additional pilot services, so plan accordingly.

  • There are no lights, so landings and takeoffs are prohibited after dark.
  • Trees frame both ends of the runway.
  • Be ready to battle crosswinds and a stiff ocean breeze.
  • Note the right pattern for landing at Runway 21 and the power line on short final.
  • Don’t forget to augment your logbook with a special First Flight Airport ink stamp, available in the pilot facility.

Dare County Regional Airport is five miles southwest in Manteo and has a PAPI, lighting, fuel, rental cars, and aircraft services. The Roanoke Sound overwater approaches for Runway 05/23 are scenic, and the airfield is a convenient place to base your aircraft while exploring the Outer Banks.

A blue sky ablaze with the beginnings of a pink sunrise frame the beach at Nags Head, North Carolina, near the Wright Brothers National Memorial. Photo by David Tulis.
David Tulis

David Tulis

Associate Editor Web/ePilot
AOPA Associate Editor Web/ePilot David Tulis joined AOPA in 2015 and is a seaplane-rated private pilot who enjoys vintage aircraft, aerobatic flying, and photography.
Topics: US Travel

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