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Wright Brothers Take Flight in Sculpture

December 13, 2003

KILL DEVIL HILLS, N.C. (AP) _ It won’t be dedicated until Sunday, but a sculpture of the Wright brothers and their Flyer at start of the first manned, powered flight already has become a magnet for children _ and adults _ who like their history hands-on.

Nancey Atkinson looped the strap of her binoculars around Wilbur Wright’s neck Saturday, then stood near the wingtip of the airplane being piloted by his brother, Orville, and told a friend with a camera: ``Get the guy! I want all of them in there!″

The figures and plane that drew Atkinson and others, commemorating that historic moment on Dec. 17, 1903, are the newest addition to the Wright Brothers National Memorial.

The sculpture, unfenced and at ground level, is ``the one hands-on thing that we’ve got. You’re not just looking at something through a glass, from behind a cord,″ park superintendent Lawrence Belli said.

Sunday’s dedication of the bronze and steel statue, a gift to the national park from the state of North Carolina, is part of the weeklong festivities leading up to the 100th anniversary of the Wright brothers’ first flight.

The week features air shows, a salute to aviation heroes and, with President Bush expected to attend, a re-creation on Wednesday’s anniversary of the Wrights’ first, 12-second flight.

Kevin Kochersberger, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at the Rochester Institute of Technology, won the honors to fly the plane, organizers said Saturday. He won a coin toss Wednesday with American Airlines pilot Terry Queijo _ just as Orville Wright won a coin toss with his brother in 1903.

At the park Saturday, sculptor Stephen Smith watched with a smile as visitors snapped photos, milling around the figures of Wilbur Wright and John Daniels, the local man who took the famous photograph of the flyer’s first ascent.

``We actually (modeled it on) the moment before,″ the Wilmington-born artist said. ``In the photo, the plane is about two feet in the air. We wanted it at the very beginning of flight.″

The poses were practical as well as aesthetic. The sculpture weighs well over 10,000 pounds, and it was necessary to have the plane touching the ground to keep it stable, especially in an area with weather as turbulent as the Outer Banks can experience.

All that weight is supported by concrete and steel pillars extending 30 feet deep into the ground. The whole assemblage was designed, with the help of state Department of Transportation engineers, to withstand 140 mph wind and weight of 150 pounds per square foot.

``And we were happy we did that after coming over here yesterday and seeing a number of children hanging on the front of that elevator,″ Smith said, gesturing to the small wing at the front of the flyer.

Four other residents _ and, according to some accounts, a dog _ witnessed the 1903 flights. Park officials hope to add statues of them to the site later.

Until now, the park’s most notable features have been the 61-foot-tall granite memorial pylon atop Kill Devil Hill, the reconstructed shack and hangar of the brothers’ camp, cairns marking the site of the first flights, and the visitors center. Shifting sand quickly erased the real traces of the Wrights’ presence.

Atkinson lives in Kill Devil Hills and visits the site nearly every day, taking a walk around the memorial pylon during her lunch break from a nearby dentist’s office.

``I mean, the pylon’s really nice and the place where the airplane flew is really neat, but this is a visual, a three-dimensional,″ she said of the sculpture.

She looked at the figure of Wilbur Wright, poised in mid-stride as if he had just let go of the flyer’s wing.

``I feel a part of it,″ she said. ``It brings me right up here with him: ‘Let’s go, guy! I’ll help you!’ Which would’ve been the thing I would have gotten to do, maybe, if I’d been there.″

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On the Net:

Wright Brothers National Memorial: http://www.nps.gov/wrbr/index.htm

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