In the Spotlight: Monument to a Century of Flight

Sunday, 17 April

Humankind is a continuum of pioneers sharing timeless dreams and the boundless possibilities of vast unexplored worlds.

The above words are on the front of the brochure for the Monument to a Century of Flight, located in Kitty Hawk, the birthplace of powered flight.

The monument was a surprise find when we stopped at the Aycock Brown Welcome Center in Kitty Hawk on April 15.  My DSLR camera and the lenses I needed to photograph the monument were packed somewhere in the basement of the coach, so I had to be content with a couple of quick snapshots.  Today, when we drove through Kitty Hawk to explore points north, we made a second stop to capture a few more shots of the monument.  (Note the black arrow near the top of the map to the right; it points out the location of the Welcome Center and the monument at Milepost 1.  You can click the map for a larger image.)

The monument was dedicated during the 2003 First Flight Centennial to celebrate “the human odyssey of flight in a single century from earthbound into the mysteries of space.”

In celebration of the “soaring human spirit.”

The monument consists of 14 stainless steel pylons, a bronze dome, a brick courtyard, and a black granite marker.  The wing-shaped pylons, designed to represent wing foils, are positioned in ascending height from 10 to 20 feet (3-6 m) to symbolize “the steps humans have taken to reach the heavens.”  On the face of each pylon is a polished-granite marker inscribed with 100 of the most significant aviation achievements during the period 1903-2003.

The circle of aviation achievements.

The 120-foot (36 m) orbit in which the pylons are set is no coincidence.  This number represents the distance the Wright Brothers flew the day they made flight history.  By the way, it wasn’t that no one had flown before the Wrights.  What made their flight so important was that it was the world’s first “powered, controlled, sustained manned flight in a heavier-than-air-machine.”

Left: Appropriately, the first of the 14 pylons starts with a tribute to the “first” flight.
Right: an “i was there photo op” … and a means of showing the challenges of shooting the
inscriptions on the polished-granite markers.

A black granite marker greets visitors at the entrance to the site.  The marker is inscribed with High Flight, written by John G. Magee Jr.  Magee was a 19-year-old American pilot who served in the Royal Canadian Air Force in England in 1941.  He was killed in action, flying over England in his spitfire, just a few months after he wrote the poignant and powerful words.

“oh!  I have slipped the surly bonds of earth … and touched the  face of god.”

The orbit of the pylons culminates at a dome that represents the world.  The bronze dome, which measures 6 feet (1.8 m) in diameter, is sculpted with raised images of the continents.  A ribbon of words — a centennial message from Kitty Hawk — rims the etched images of flying machines that trim the edge of the dome.  These vehicles of flight range from the Wright flyer to the space shuttle — from the simplest to the most complex.  Nearly 4,500 bricks make up the courtyard within the pylons.

The world has shrunk in size thanks to the achievements in aviation.

Many of the bricks are inscribed with messages of sponsors of the monument.

As I noted above, photographing the inscriptions and tributes etched into the polished-granite markers on the pylons was a challenge.  At times, it was the sun shining bright that was a problem; at other times, it was the fingerprints and smears left behind by previous visitors.  I itched to get my hands on a rag so I could do a bit of spring cleaning.  In the end, I did the best I could and will have to be satisfied with that.

[Clockwise from top left]
first walk on the moon — Neil Armstrong; 20 July 1969
determination and perseverance in the face of tremendous odds  — Tuskegee airmen; 1941-46
First American aircraft carrier commissioned — USS Langley; 20 March 1922
first flight — Wright brothers; 17 December 1903
first woman & second person to fly solo across the Atlantic — Amelia Earhart; 20-21 May 1932
first solo flight across the Atlantic — Charles Lindbergh; 20-21 May 1927
first man in space — Yuri Gagarin; 12 April 1961

For those who’d like a full listing of the 100 events selected for recognition on the pylons …

[click this collage of images to view a larger version of the design of each pylon]

Finding the Monument to a Century of Flight at the beginning of our OBX getaway set the tone for a week filled with new places and new things to explore.  A great start!

For more information about the monument, click here to go to the website.

For the full set of photos from our visit to the monument, click here to go to my gallery.


  1. What a wonderful post. I have always loved that poem by John Magee. The wonder of flight never ceases to amaze me.

  2. great post Erin..thanks for sharing!!!..

  3. You remind me of how much of what we experience today is because countless pioneers explored unknown worlds. Its all around us and it is incredible what we humans have fashioned. Thanks for the inspirational tour.