Dec. 17th First Flight Anniversary Virtual Celebration to Include Fireworks

Posted By on December 10, 2020

This year’s celebration of the 117th anniversary of the Wright brothers’ first powered flight in Kill Devil Hills will include virtual events online and, for the first time, a fireworks show.

During the Dec. 17 anniversary event, Wright Brothers National Memorial in KDH will celebrate the ingenuity of aviation from the Wright brothers’ first flights to present-day advances. Virtual activities will include live streaming of the annual wreath laying ceremony, fly over, and First Flight Shrine Honoree portrait placement; online ranger programs about the Wright brothers’ experiments and legacy; engaging videos from aviation sites around the country; and interviews with site-matter experts.

This year’s First Flight Shrine Honoree, Frank Caldwell, is a prime example of the kind of ingenuity that honors the legacy of the Wright brothers. Frank Caldwell, MIT graduate and chief propeller engineer for the U.S. Government from 1917-1928, was the leading U.S. engineer responsible for groundbreaking advances in propeller technology in the 1920s and ’30s.

Caldwell and his team at Hamilton Standard were awarded the 1933 Collier Trophy for developing a controllable-pitch propeller, the “gearshift of the air,” that could be changed in flight. In 1938, Caldwell created a hydromatic, constant speed propeller that automatically adjusted to changing conditions, which was used by virtually every frontline U.S. aircraft in World War II, making vast improvements to the efficiency and safety of Allied aircraft.

Caldwell’s many contributions to aviation in propeller technology are highlighted by his winning with Hamilton Standard the 1933 Collier Trophy for design of the controllable-pitch propeller. His pioneering whirl test procedures were indispensable to the development of all modern high-performance propellers during the 20th Century.

The First Flight Society has also announced five new Honorary Members: Colonel Gail Halvorsen, Brigadier General Charles McGee, Lieutenant Colonel Richard “Dick” Rutan, Sean D. Tucker, and Patty Wagstaff.

Colonel Halvorsen, General McGee and Colonel Dick Rutan have all been previously inducted into the Paul E Garber Shrine. Halvorsen was nicknamed “the Candy Bomber” for air dropping candy to German children during the Berlin Airlift. McGee was one of the famed Tuskegee Airmen who flew fighter escort for Allied bombers. Rutan is a fighter pilot, test pilot, and record-breaking aviator who in 1986 piloted the Voyager aircraft on the first non-stop around-the-world flight with co-pilot Jeana Yeager. Halvorsen turned 100 in October and McGee celebrated 101 on December 7th.

Sean Tucker and Patty Wagstaff are celebrated Aerobatic pilots, who still perform. Tucker has won numerous air show championship competitions throughout his career and was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 2008. Wagstaff is a US National Aerobatic Champion and  a 2006 member of the National Aviation Hall of Fame.

The Honorary Member program launches this year to enhance the public visibility of pilots like these who have achieved national recognition in aviation. First Flight Society will recognize them in Society Media during their lifetime. In turn, FFS offers them the chance to attend the December 17th Luncheon in Kitty Hawk, NC and be honored along with that year’s Honoree. With the cancellation of this year’s luncheon the Society hopes to renew that offer sometime in 2021.

Another first, after the Town of Kill Devil Hills was forced to postpone their July 4th fireworks, the event has been rescheduled to now take place on Thursday evening, Dec. 17, in conjunction and in honor of the first flight anniversary. The fireworks display will be livestreamed on the town’s YouTube page at where the public can watch for free from the safety of their own homes.

Should persons chose to watch the fireworks show from the beach, and not the livestream offering, please do so safely: only watch the in-person show with members of your household, keep a minimum physical distance of six (6) feet between you and others, wear a cloth face covering, and, if you are not feeling well, stay home.

The First Flight Anniversary Virtual Celebration starts at 9:00 a.m. on Thursday, Dec. 17, and you can follow along on Facebook here.

The fireworks display will begin at approximately 7:00 p.m., launched from Avalon Pier in Kill Devil Hills.


Posted by Matt Artz

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