June 17, 2019
Having flown all the way across the United States, and with the airplane parked an hours flight from Kitty Hawk, NC, a flight to First Flight KFFA was a must do. (Not to mention that it has been a bucket list item since I started flying and found out there was an airport there). Today looked like it would be the best weather for the flight, so the plans were set.
It was a beautiful morning, blue skies, and it was still cool outside when we finished the runup and I announced “Johnston traffic, Mooney 78878 taking two-one for a left crosswind departure.” A short climb later and we leveled off at 3,500′ for a mostly smooth flight over the green fields and forests of North Carolina which gave way to the waters of the Ablemarle Sound and the islands of the Outer Banks. It was a gorgeous flight.
After a smooth descent we setup for right traffic for runway 21 where a couple of banner tow planes working the beach and the area near the memorial. As I turned right base one of them was just crossing about 1/2 mile off the approach end of 21. She had announced where she was and I let her know that I had a visual on her and would pass behind her. I was on about a one mile base and extended the base leg just past the centerline to ensure we passed behind the very slow moving banner plane before continuing my turn and lining up.
We bounced around a little on the base leg and final. The winds were not reported as gusty, but then the airport is surrounded by very tall pines and once you were below the treeline the winds almost disappeared. We landed and taxied to the ramp where we shut down a pushed back into a spot. It was surreal seeing “FIRST FLIGHT” painted in bright yellow letters on the asphalt, and looking up from our seats in the plane at the Wright Brothers Memorial.
Our first stop after locking up and chocking the nose wheel was the Pilot Facility courtesy of AOPA for a little air-conditioning and to sign the logbook. After that we began the walk up Big Kill Devil Hill where they made many of their glider flights from and where the memorial sits at the top. There are nice paved paths up the hill, but in the warm humid air you could imagine the effort of hauling the heavy gliders up the hill, time and time and time again. The hill is now covered with vegetation, but when the Wright Brothers were there it was just sand, and every step up would have been difficult as the sand slid down under their feet.
As many of you know, I am an emotional guy, but was caught by surprise at the emotions of standing at the top of the hill, looking up at the monument, looking down from the hill at the surrounding area, and thinking of what they accomplished. There may or may not have been a few tears shed…
Everything there is well done. There is a section of rail in the ground leading up to a large rock that marks the spot that their powered flights left the ground. To the north-east there are four markers showing the distances of the first four flights and listing the times and distances flown. There are replicas of the small buildings they lived in and worked out of, and a nice museum with history of their journey, along with a replica of the first flyer.
Unfortunately it was finally time to be on our way. There was a big group of kids leaving at the same time as us. They had flown there in a handful of Cessna’s to see the memorial and they were leaving just before us. There is no full length taxiway so you have to back-taxi on the runway to get to the departure end of 21. There is a small turnout at the end with enough room for three planes. After the first three planes departed we taxied behind a Cherokee with another Cessna behind us. My wife grabbed a great picture when we lined up on 21 with the memorial in the background as we waited for the Cessna ahead of us to depart and climb out.
Next it was our turn, I pushed the throttle forward, we climbed out, and then made a right downwind for 21 to get a last view of the memorial before turning to the west and heading back to Smithfield and the Johnston Regional Airport. It was an amazing trip of a lifetime!