Outer Banks native whose family helped the Wright Brothers in 1903 settles ‘First in Flight’ argument

North Carolina

(FOX 46 CHARLOTTE) — The fight over the true origin of flight is once again, coming to a head. The anniversary of the first successful soar at Kitty Hawk is on December 17. But who owns the story?

Those famous aeronautical brothers were actually from in the Buckeye State. Ohio argues it trumps North Carolina, going so far as to record making the plan to their license plate this year. However, it didn’t help their cause when they discovered the plane image was backward.

FOX 46 traveled to Outer Banks, where there is no doubt who is on the ‘Wright Side of History.’

“I go to staples all the time and they say, here comes the man with the history.”

History can be shared in all kinds of ways. It can be tweeted, telegraphed, written by hand, or printed on a license plate. What’s part of North Carolina’s history is also part of Stanley Beacham’s history. At 85, he figures he might as well tell his story in a new way.

“History was changed at Kill Devil Hills,” said Stanley. “That’s where history was changed.”

Stanley grew up in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. His father did too, calling Kitty Hawk home for generations.

“It brings back such memories and it’s part of history,” said Stanley. “We are historical.”

The Kitty Hawk now is nothing like the one Stanley and his dad experienced. It was covered in sand and only a handful of people lived there.

“He said, Wilbur Wright was grouchy!” said Stanley.

It was a place that was removed from the rest of the world until Wilbur and Orville Wright quite literally flew in.

“Orville Wright would give the children licorice candy sticks. I said, Daddy, were they the red or the black? He said, ew, they were black! I wouldn’t eat them for nothing,” remembered Stanley.

“Here they would find privacy, secrecy, and isolation. But what they’d find at Kity Hawk, where they couldn’t find anywhere else, was Southern hospitality,” said Darrell Collins. 

Darrell is an expert in history, the Wright Brothers history to be exact. He spent 40 years working as the historian at the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kitty Hawk.

“The first time the plane was ever assembled was at the site. You could imagine building it in parts, bringing it down, putting it all together and everything worked perfectly,” said Darrell.

On December 17, 1903, the world changed. The Wright Brothers finally built a plane that could fly. It wasn’t just one successful flight that day, but four.

“We talk about the first flight, but there were three more flights that day. First flight was 120 feet in 12 seconds, they took photographs of all the flights that morning, but this is the most dramatic,” said Darrell.

“I’m proud of it,” said Stanley.

That bit of history Stanley’s proud of it captured in one picture.

“There’s granddaddy, with my daddy, and my daddy’s dog Max,” said Stanley.

His grandfather and dad were with the Wright brothers when they tried to fly on December 13. They were there for the second successful flight on December 14.

“The first flight did occur at Kitty Hawk,” said Darrell.

So when some states lay claim to being first…

“I have nothing against Ohio,” said Stanley.

Both Stanley…

“Kinda weird with an airplane pushing the banner instead of pulling,” laughed Darrell.

And Darrell says, look at history.

“They were bragging about something that wasn’t true,” said Stanley. “They did not have the first flight.”

Because this particular bit of history has been photographed, written down, and even set in stone. Including the picture of Stanley’s family, watching that attempted flight on December 13.

“(My friend) embarrassed me to death, he turned around to the tourists standing behind me, and said that’s his grandaddy! They gathered around and wanted to take my picture, I was embarrassed to death,” laughed Stanley.

But there are takeaways from the past, like the lesson Stanley’s grandfather had to learn.

“(A historian) said, (my grandfather) had to apologize to Wilbur wright, and (my dad) said why? He said, he told him he was crazy. I said a lot of people might have done that,” said Stanley.

So crazy, wasn’t so crazy after all.

And what happened at Kitty Hawk, well, the rest is history.

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