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Celebration of flight lifts off at historic site

A celebration honoring the 100th anniversary of the Wright brothers' first flight leads up to a modern-day re-enactment on Wednesday.
Bill Swecker, of Harrisburg, Va., checks out a 1945 Goodyear FG-1D Navy Corsair at the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills, N.C., on Friday.Bob Jordan / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A weeklong celebration honoring the 100th anniversary of the first airplane flight by the Wright brothers opened Friday with aviation exhibits and schoolchildren talking to astronauts aboard the international space station.

Keith Yoerg, a 13-year-old great-great-grandnephew of Wilbur and Orville Wright, joined the visitors to the Wright Brothers National Memorial on Friday and was talking about his own dreams of going into space someday.

“I probably wouldn’t be as into it if I wasn’t part of the family, because I’ve had so many great opportunities to meet people,” he said. “So it’s kind of like, kindled my want to become an astronaut.”

The usually placid Wright Brothers National Memorial, on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, has undergone a $10 million transformation with two stages for musical acts, nearly 50 temporary tents housing 100,000 square feet of exhibit space and 35 aircraft displays between now and the anniversary on Wednesday.

Organizers expect dozens of plane flyovers and about 200,000 visitors to the park during the anniversary celebration over the next six days. White House press secretary Scott McClellan confirmed Friday that President Bush would speak during anniversary events on Wednesday.

Pauline Barton and Julie Williams, who accompanied six students into the park when the gates opened Friday, said they were looking forward to the highlight of the celebration: Wednesday’s re-enactment of the Wright brothers’ 12-second first flight.

“It would be the most exciting thing to see that plane rise into the air,” Barton said.

“And not crash,” Williams added.

The celebration will culminate on the morning of Dec. 17 at 10:35 a.m., 100 years to the minute since the Wrights first flew their wood and muslin contraption for 12 seconds over 120 feet (36.5 meters) of the dunes.

Using a $1.2 million reproduction of 1903 Wright Flyer, a pilot will steer the plane over the same sandhill, which has been stripped of the grass, applied years ago to stabilize the terrain, in order to make the scene more authentic.