Remembering EAA’s Countdown to Kitty Hawk & the 100th Anniversary of Flight

“Mother Nature Just Doesn’t Cooperate in Effort to Recreate First Flight”

Jonathan's ID badge from the 2003 First Flight Centennial CelebrationThis news release headline I wrote on the afternoon of Dec. 17, 2003, in the final hours of the First Flight Centennial Celebration at the Wright Brothers National Memorial culminated a four-day celebration in one of the largest public events in the history of the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

Actor and accomplished pilot John Travolta spoke before a star-struck crowd. President George W. Bush flew in on Marine One to be among the estimated 34,200 people who traveled to Kill Devil Hills, N.C., for the First Flight Centennial Celebration.

Reflecting back on that cold December scene, my words in the official news release best describe the events of the day:

Around 12:30 p.m. today Dr. Kevin Kochersberger took control of the world’s most accurate 1903 Wright Flyer reproduction for a reenactment of Orville Wright’s first flight. However, the engine RPM was lower than expected due to the wet weather. 

The wind speed also dropped as the Flyer maneuvered down the 200-foot rail. The hopes of a second attempt at 3:45 p.m. also were dashed by low winds on the final day of the First Flight Centennial Celebration.

During an encampment at the Memorial in December, The Wright Experience conducted three successful flights – two piloted by Kochersberger and one by Terry Queijo, an airline captain flying Boeing 757/767, veteran skydiver and light plane pilot. One flight traveled just under 100 feet and another traveled 115 feet.

In the news release I wrote, Ken Hyde, president of The Wright Experience and master builder of EAA’s 1903 Wright Flyer reproduction, said, “We’ve already proven this Wright Flyer will fly, and we’re proud of that achievement. Today, we just didn’t get the conditions we needed. I want to commend the entire Wright Experience team for their efforts in this incredible cause.”

For nearly a decade before the Centennial of Flight, Hyde and his team at The Wright Experience sifted through hundreds of documents, drawings and photographs to recreate the world’s most accurate 1903 Wright Flyer.

Shortly after his historic flight reenactment, Kochersberger, wearing a crash helmet and 1903-era necktie, said, “I could feel the energy and excitement in the crowd. It was an incredible feeling.” At the time, Kochersberger worked at Rochester Institute of Technology. He is now an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech.

Ironically, a team of engineers and aviation experts could not accomplish what two self-educated bicycle mechanics from Dayton, Ohio, achieved a century earlier at the exact same moment.

About the Flyer reproduction

The 1903 Wright Flyer reproduction served as the centerpiece of EAA’s Countdown to Kitty Hawk presented by Ford Motor Company.

After the 100th anniversary reenactment, The Wright Flyer reproduction headed to Dearborn, Mich., for display in The Henry Ford Museum. The museum already owned the Wrights’ bicycle shop and boyhood home at 7 Hawthorn Street from Dayton, Ohio.

Henry Ford, who also started Ford Motor Company in 1903 and shared a passion for innovation with Orville and Wilbur, purchased and moved these structures from their original site in Dayton, Ohio, to Greenfield Village in 1937 and 1938.

Jonathan Rhudy served as the media relations lead for EAA’s Countdown to Kitty Hawk presented by Ford Motor Company in 2002 and 2003. He had a front-row seat, traveling the country with the 1903 Wright Flyer reproduction that attempted to fly in Kitty Hawk at 10:35 a.m. on Dec. 17, 2003.

Read more about Jonathan’s role with EAA’s Countdown to Kitty Hawk in Rhudy & Co.'s blog post on the 110th anniversary of flight. That's tomorrow.