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.
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.
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.
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.”
A two-year, $1.5 million update to the visitors center highlights the Wright brothers’ aviation accomplishments and includes a 16-screen video wall plus interactive exhibits that showcase their bicycle building business. Hurricane-proofing, systems updates, and a junior aviator store with activity and retail space awaits the 500,000 annual visitors.
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.
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.
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.