Wright brothers’ flight has Brigantine ties

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Wright Brothers Day is celebrated in the United States on December 17 each year. The date commemorates the Wright brothers' first successful flight in heavier-than-air, mechanically propelled craft, accomplished on December 17, 1903, near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Wright Brothers Day is celebrated in the United States on December 17 each year. The date commemorates the Wright brothers' first successful flight in heavier-than-air, mechanically propelled craft, accomplished on December 17, 1903, near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

It will have been 110 years on Dec. 17 since the Wright brothers made their historic first flight on a cold windy morning in North Carolina.

Many people know that Wilbur and Orville Wright made the world’s first successful powered flight in a heavier-than-air machine. Few know their connection to Brigantine.

The brothers were based in Dayton, Ohio and had been experimenting with a glider while testing a system of control they called “wing-warping.” They soon realized that the weather conditions in Dayton were not conducive to glider flights. After contacting sources in Washington, D.C., they heard about Kitty Hawk, N.C. which was known for its constant winds.

A letter from the Wright Brothers was sent to the Kitty Hawk weather station which forwarded it to the local postmaster, William Tate, later to be known as the North Landing Lighthouse keeper. He would also be known as the father of Irene Severn and grandfather of Willia Severn Raye – better known as Billie Raye – past principal at Brigantine’s North School.

Wilbur Wright, in his letter to Tate, asked about the beach.Tate responded by describing Kill Devil Hills and its elevation points.

On Sept. 12, 1900, Wilbur showed up, followed by his brother on Sept. 28. Both brothers lived on the beach in a tent as they conducted their experiments. Later they stayed at the Tates’ house as guests.

Tate’s wife, Addie, was instrumental in the success of the first flight, having loaned the brothers her 1899 Sears Roebuck sewing machine that was purchased for $2. Wilbur sewed the cloth for the first glider on that sewing machine which is featured at the Outer Banks History Center.

The fabric for the glider was covered in imported French sateen. After the glider experiments were finished, the brothers gave the fabric to Addie, who made dresses for their two daughters – Pauline and Irene – from the sateen.

A monument commemorating the Wright Brothers achievement was erected in the front yard of the Tates’ former home. Wilbur died in 1912, but Orville remained friends with Tate for the rest of his life.

Billie Raye’s father had become fascinated with the new “aero-planes” after observing them landing on the beaches and giving people rides. He had met Billie Raye’s mother, Irene (the daughter of Will Tate), when his plane went down and he landed on a water way in North Carolina. The plane had pontoons so it could land on water.

They got married, and the Severns became ‘barnstormers,’ flying around the country.

In an interview conducted by Betsey Rogge and Andy Solari, Billie Raye recounted a story her parents told about flying under a bridge in New York City.

“My father said ‘We can’t get it up, Irene; we have to go underneath the bridge.’ My mother said she could have reached out and put her hand in the water, they were flying so close to the water.”

Eventually the Severns settled in Brigantine after their plane wore out, and three generations settled here. Billie Raye’s daughters have located off the island, with Janice currently living in Vermont.

A more complete account of Billie Raye’s interview is located at the Brigantine Historical Museum.

 

Material for this article was provided in part by Andy Solari and the Brigantine Historical Museum. Information on Will Tate and the Wright Brothers was taken in part from a report by historian Dr. Richard Stimson.


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