First in flight: Ohio or North Carolina?

On the 100th year of flight, both states are vying to claim the Wright Brothers' legacy as their own.

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The Kill Devil Hills at Mile Post 8 on the Outer Banks is a flier's paradise: Here, hawks, ducks, and pipers swoop in dogfights along the surf-sprayed dunes. For Orville and Wilbur Wright, the spot was ideal for testing their flyer. The brothers from Dayton, Ohio, selected the hill because of its privacy - and promise of Southern hospitality from the postmaster. But it was perfect in other ways that are still evident: The hill has been carved out by the wind over centuries, making a perfect sloped runway into the ocean breeze.

But the choice of location unwittingly sparked a quarrel over the genesis of manned flight: Was this barrier island near the town of Kitty Hawk merely a stepping-off point for an idea hatched in Ohio - or part of the very inspiration of flight?

For its part, North Carolina boldy stated its claim a few years ago with license plates that boasted "First in Flight." It was followed by Ohio's "Birthplace of Aviation" claim a few years later. And in the late 1990s, North Carolina again moved first to put the flyer on its state quarter, taking a lot of oomph out of Ohio's "Pioneers of Flight" motto.

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But in the 100th year of flight both states have put rivalry aside, realizing the skies could not have been cleaved without the benefits of both locales.

"In Dayton, they proved that powered flight was practical; at Kitty Hawk, they proved that it was possible," says Bob Petersen, a park ranger at the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park.

The same force that sparked the quarrel is at play now: Tourism. But instead of fighting for millions of tourism dollars from centennial parties, the two states have traded representatives on their centennial commissions, staggered celebration dates, and even listed rival events on their websites. Part of the reason for this return to comity is that the sheer number of celebrations worldwide this year threatened to obscure both locales.

"What we've been hearing is there's this big rivalry between North Carolina and Ohio," says North Carolinian Tom Parramore, author of "First to Fly." "But there's been no attempts to step on the toes of the other. They're 'The Birthplace of Aviation.' We're 'First in Flight.' "

Still, nearly all flight enthusiasts have their own idea of where the real birthplace of flight really is.

Ohio proponents say that the flyer was dreamed up and shaped at the brothers' bicycle factory in Dayton, a city full of welders, diemakers, and tool shops. In fact, after the first flight, the Wrights returned to fine-tune their machine at Huffman Pasture outside Dayton.

"I'm convinced that the airplane is something that could only have been developed in Dayton, Ohio," says Mr. Petersen. "And I'm from Wisconsin."

Hyperbole, mutter North Carolinians.

To many here, the state enjoys a rich legacy of accomplishments in aviation. The first helicopter was built here, and the state was the home of the first African-American to design an airplane. Men were doing balloon experiments on the outer banks back in the 1700s.

Today, the Kill Devil Hills is a prime vacation spot, albeit a kitschy one. Cottages have names such as "Wright Nice" and the "Wrighthouse." There's a Wright Brothers High School. And the islands are connected to the mainland by the Wright Bridge. "You have other aviation celebrations around the world, but, like compasses, they all point to Kitty Hawk," says Ken Mann, president of the First Flight Society in Kill Devil Hills.

Still, Dayton is likely to have the biggest party. The city's $10 million flight celebration will last 17 days. Notes Michael Novak, a historian at Meredith College in Raleigh, N.C., "The rivalry is good-natured, but I wouldn't say the hatchet is quite buried."

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