North Carolina Icons: Wright Brothers and Jockey’s Ridge

NC IconsToday we are featuring two state icons: the Wright Brothers and Jockey’s Ridge, numbers 13 and 53 in Our State magazine’s 100 North Carolina Icons list. Our State explains the best way to appreciate the pioneer’s of aviation: “Stand at the base of the Wright Brothers Memorial in Kitty Hawk, right where it all began.” Then, just a few miles to the south you can visit Jockey’s Ridge State Park, home to the East Coast’s tallest active sand dune, where Our State recommends, “Want to be a daredevil? Try hang-gliding. Rather keep your feet in the sand? Fly a kite.”

UNC Press has a variety of books to help prepare you for a visit to these two icons and the surrounding area. Tom Parramore’s First to Fly: North Carolina and the Beginnings of Aviation not only details the work of the Wright Brothers, but also reminds readers that mechanics and engineers in North Carolina had been working on aviation research and technology as far back as the 1700s. A great companion for any field trip to the coast, Kevin Stewart and Mary-Russell Roberson’s Exploring the Geology of the Carolinas: A Field Guide to Favorite Places from Chimney Rock to Charleston explains rock formations and geological change at Jockey’s Ridge and other state landmarks. If you are more into animals, North Carolina Birding Trail: Coastal Plain Trail Guide will make the visit even more worthwhile.

First to Fly: North Carolina and the Beginnings of Aviation by Tom ParramoreA remarkable story filled with dreamers, inventors, scoundrels, and pioneering pilots, First to Fly recounts North Carolina’s significant role in the early history of aviation. Beginning well before the Wilbur and Orville Wright’s first powered flight at Kill Devil Hill in 1903, North Carolinians labored at the cutting edge of aviation technology from the late 1800s through World War I.

North Carolina was a launching ground for real and imaginary ballooning adventures as early as 1789. Powered experiments, including what seems to have been America’s first airplane, gained momentum in the late nineteenth century. Tar Heel mechanics and inventors also built a dirigible and, arguably, the world’s first successful helicopter.

Tom Parramore’s account of the Wrights’ experiments and turn-of-the-century Dare County provides new information on the crucial role of Outer Bankers in ensuring the Wrights’ success. Without this aid, he argues, it is unlikely that the miracle of flight would have first been achieved in 1903–or in America. After 1903, growth in the new aviation industry, spurred by World War I, outpaced North Carolina’s ability to play a major role. But the state produced some of the most notable airmen and women of the era, furnishing hundreds of pilots to the war effort.

Exploring the Geology of the Carolinas by Kevin Stewart and Mary-Russell RobersonExploring the Geology of the Carolinas pairs a brief geological history of the N.C./S.C. region with 31 field trips to easily accessible, often familiar sites in both states where readers can observe firsthand the evidence of geologic change found in rocks, river basins, mountains, waterfalls, and coastal land formations. Geologist Kevin Stewart and science writer Mary-Russell Roberson begin by explaining techniques geologists use to “read” rocks, the science of plate tectonics, and the formation of the Carolinas. The field trips that follow are arranged geographically by region, from the Blue Ridge to the Piedmont to the Coastal Plain.


North Carolina Birding Trail: Coastal Plain GuideNorth Carolina harbors an incredible diversity of habitats that provide food and shelter for more than 440 bird species throughout the year, making the state a destination for birders and nature lovers. The North Carolina Birding Trail is a driving trail linking birders and tourists with great birding sites across the state and the local communities in which they are found.

The first of three regional guides, the Coastal Plain Trail Guide presents 102 birding destinations east of Interstate 95. The spiral-bound volume features maps, detailed site descriptions, and color photographs throughout. Each site description includes directions as well as information on access, focal species and habitats, and on-site visitor amenities. Special “while you’re in the area” listings accompany each of sixteen site groupings, so visitors can travel to a cluster of birding destinations and enjoy other local highlights and attractions along the way.

For further information and resources about the Wright Brothers and Jockey’s Ridge visit the North Carolina State library website and for more birding trails across the state visit Trail Guide series website. Remember to look out for more reading suggestions in our NC Icons series.