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Dec. 17, 1903: Wright Brothers take flight at NC's Outer Banks

117 years ago, the Wright Brothers conducted the first successful manned powered-airplane flights near Kitty Hawk, using their experimental aircraft.

KILL DEVIL HILLS, N.C. — It was 117 years ago Thursday that Wilbur and Orville Wright etched their names in history and embarked on the first flight in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina. They were the first to demonstrate sustained flight of a heavier-than-air machine under complete control of the pilot. 

December 17 is nationally recognized as Wright Brothers Day.

The brothers' innovation is one of North Carolina's seminal moments. As most drivers know, the state honors their "First in Flight" accomplishment on their license plates with a sketch of the brothers' experimental aircraft, called the "Wright Flyer."

Orville piloted the first flight that lasted 12 seconds and went 120 feet. On the fourth and final flight of the day, Wilbur's flight traveled 852 feet, staying airborne for 59 seconds. 

What the Wright Brothers started is now a $518 billion industry worldwide. The aviation and related tourism industry employs 63 million worldwide with 9.9 million working directly for the aviation industry.

The brothers picked Kitty Hawk because they needed a number of conditions for their flying experiments: steady winds, high sand dunes, limited obstructions including trees and buildings, and also isolation.