More than a century ago, two brothers from Dayton, Ohio, made history here that would forever change the world. From atop 90-foot Big Kill Devil Hill at Wright Brothers National Memorial, you can see where Orville and Wilbur Wright's plane left the ground for 12 seconds — the first controlled, powered airplane flight.
This is, of course, the pinnacle of aviation history in North Carolina and the world; the beginning. But the Wright Memorial is in no way the only aviation-related attraction in North Carolina. Across the state are museums honoring the men and women who built upon what the Wright Brothers proved was a possibility that winter day not so long ago.
General William C. Lee House
209 W. Divine Street, Dunn
Major Gen. William C. Lee's legacy should be another point of pride for North Carolinians. "Father of the US Army Airborne," Lee helped develop what would become an intricate part of America's military might. The house helps voice Lee's story by illustrating his personal life as well as the early years of the airborne.
After World War I, Lee was assigned as a peace-time observer in Germany where he began taking note of Hitler's airborne troop development. When he returned to Washington, he talked incessantly about the need for the United States to have an airborne unit. When President Franklin Roosevelt's military aide wanted to know about developing airborne warfare, it was Lee who became the point man. He was invited to the White House to brief President Roosevelt on what he had seen in Germany. The President was so impressed that he ordered airborne planning and training to begin immediately.
By touring the house, guests get a feel for the man and his mission, and learn from its many airborne exhibits.
(910) 892-1947 or generalleeairbornemuseum.org
Airborne & Special Operations Museum
100 Bragg Boulevard, Fayetteville
In the main gallery, exhibits begin with the U.S. Army Parachute Test Platoon. The gallery continues through World War II, which was fought on many fronts. Uniforms, medals, personal and regimental stories play out through this time tunnel.
Continuing through the Cold War, Korean War, Vietnam and the Persian Gulf War, life-size dioramas, special sound effects and meticulously thought-out displays bring Airborne & Special Operations history into focus.
(910) 643-2766 or asomf.org
Missiles and More Museum
720 Channel Boulevard, Topsail Beach
The museum is the result of citizens concerned for the future of the historical Assembly Building built in 1946. This was the U.S. Naval Ordnance Test Facilities. Here top-secret, experimental projects to develop and test ramjet missiles were conducted. The experiments advanced the nation's jet aircraft and missile programs.
Exhibits include pictures and artifacts from Camp Davis, which played a major role in WWII including the formation of WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots) and Operation Bumblebee, the Navy's secret guided missile testing program that operated on Topsail Island from 1946 to 1948.
(910) 328-8663 or missilesandmoremuseum.org
North Carolina Aviation Museum and Hall of Fame
Asheboro Regional Airport, Asheboro
Displayed across two Asheboro Regional Airport hangars, the museum houses a collection of aircraft, weapons, uniforms, aircraft models and other memorabilia honoring aviation history in the state.
In 2001, the museum also became the official site of the North Carolina Aviation Hall of Fame.
In addition to its excellent displays, the museum sponsors several events including fly-ins and events honoring local veterans.
(336) 625-0170 or ncaviationmuseumhalloffame.com
North Carolina Transportation Museum
411 S. Salisbury Avenue, Spencer
Once Southern Railway Company's largest steam locomotive servicing facility, this museum is dedicated to all transportation. One of the exhibits is a full-size replica Wright Flyer. The Wagons, Wheels and Wings area of the museum also houses temporary aviation exhibits.
(704) 636-2889 or nctrans.org
Hickory Aviation Museum
Hickory Airport, Hickory
Different facets of the museum are housed in Hickory Airport: aircraft on the former terminal ramp, a visitor center in the former passenger terminal and indoor displays in the former flight service station. In addition to aircraft, visitors will find a revolving aviation artifact collection including weapons, flight suits, an ejection seat and display cases dedicated to Hickory aviation history.
(828) 323-1963 or hickoryaviationmuseum.org
Carolinas Aviation Museum
4672 First Flight Drive, Charlotte
By displaying military, civilian and commercial aircraft, helicopters, equipment, gadgets and historic documents, the museum lays out state and national aviation history. A recent addition is the "Miracle on the Hudson" plane — the Airbus A-320 piloted to safety by Capt."Sully" Sullenberger in 2009. The exhibit includes videotaped passenger interviews of the events of that day.
Many of the exhibits are interactive. Guests can climb into the pilot's seat of an F4 Phantom and knowledgeable docents are on hand to answer questions visitors may have about the aircraft and exhibits.
(704) 997-3770 or carolinasaviation.org
U. S. Marine Corps Aviation Exhibit
201 Tourist Center Drive, Havelock
In cooperation with the U.S. Marine Corps and Department of the Navy, five restored aircraft are on display at the exhibit along with scaled models depicting the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing at Cherry Point aircraft lineage from its inception in 1942. The museum highlights Marine Corps aviation in eastern North Carolina and includes historic photographs and artifacts.
(252) 444-4348 or cityofhavelock.com
Western North Carolina Air Museum
Adjacent to the Hendersonville Airport, Hendersonville
Opened in 1989, this museum is known for its expansive airplane display. Aircraft currently on exhibition: 1954 Cessna 170B, 1930 Aeronca C-3, 1930 Curtiss Robin 4C-1A, 1936 Piper J-2, 1941 Piper J-5, 1960s Wittman W-8 Tailwind, 1930s Corbin Junior Ace, 1915 Nieuport 11 (⁷⁄₈ scale reproduction), 1917 SE-5A (full scale reproduction), 1928 Heath Parasol, 1917 Curtiss Jenny (⁵⁄₈ scale reproduction), 1977 Parker scratch-built Formula 1 Air Racer "American Special," Barney Oldfield's "Baby Great Lakes," and the "Sportfire" (¾ scale) British Spitfire-based homebuilt.
Future plans call for exhibits featuring flight manuals, aircraft engines including jet engines, historic photographs and airplane models.
Dare County Regional Airport Museum
410 Airport Road, Manteo
This museum is known for honoring the North Carolina Civil Air Patrol. The airport at Skyco (about four miles from Dare County airport) and Naval Auxiliary Air Station Manteo were home to Civil Air Patrol Coastal Patrol Base 16 during WWII. It was one of 21 Coastal Patrol Bases formed to combat the German submarine menace on the east coast during the war. The base was in operation from July 22, 1942, until August 31, 1943.
(252) 475-5570 or co.dare.nc.us/airport/museum.asp