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Community Colleges Celebrate The Wright Brothers And 100 Years Of Flight

North Carolina Community College System Office
By Peggy Beach, Public Affairs

When the Wright brothers flew at Kitty Hawk 100 years ago, they could have hardly imagined the impact their invention would have on the world. Nor could they have foreseen how flight would influence many students, faculty, staff and friends of the North Carolina Community College System.

Aviation Industry

Several community colleges including Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute, College of The Albemarle, Craven Community College, Guilford Technical Community College, Lenoir Community College and Wayne Community College have degrees in aviation technology. In November, Craven Community College opened the doors of its new Institute of Aeronautical Technology (IAT). The IAT will help train aviation workers to replace retiring employees at the Naval Air Depot in Havelock.

“We partnered with Wayne Community College, Lenoir Community College and the Lenoir County Department of Transportation to support the growth of aviation in eastern North Carolina,” Dr. Scott Ralls, president of Craven Community College, told the New Bern Sun Journal. College officials already report 17 students enrolled and 18 on a waiting list to start next August.

Supporting the aviation industry is just one way North Carolina’s community colleges pay tribute to the Wright brothers and their invention. Jeff Cloud, long time trustee at South Piedmont Community College, is very appreciative of the Wright brothers’ achievements.

“I am very proud of what they did and look forward to being at Kitty Hawk during the anniversary celebrations,” said Cloud.

A native of Anson County, Cloud trained as a pilot for the B-29 planes in World War II. The war ended before he was able to fly in combat, but he has flown ever since. “I first soloed on November 12, 1945,” said Cloud. The retired mechanical engineer described himself as a “professional airport bum.” This summer, Cloud was a member of a team that towed glider planes from Los Angeles to Kitty Hawk. “I have a tow plane. You hook the plane to the glider and the glider follows when you fly, and then the glider pilot releases the glider at the designated time,” said Cloud, who met up with fellow team members in St. Louis.

First Flight Celebrations

Cloud’s fellow trustee at South Piedmont E. Lynn Raye and Raye’s son, Chip, share Cloud’s enthusiasm for the Wright brothers. The Rayes and employees of their company, Commercial Piping and Fabricating, Inc. have built a life-sized stainless steel model of the Wright brothers’ 1903 flyer.

The Rayes were commissioned to build the model when the North Carolina Department of Transportation asked Stephen Smith, a sculptor from Marshville, to fashion bronze sculptures of Orville and Wilbur Wright. The sculptures and the model will become a permanent part of the Wright Brothers Memorial on the Outer Banks.

E. Lynn Raye, who is the chair of the trustees at South Piedmont, said the model took more than 800 man-hours between mid-July and mid-November to complete. He told the Monroe Enquirer-Journal that he and his staff learned a lot about the Wright brothers and their struggles with building the first airplane. “I am amazed at how smart these two men were,” he said.

Many others in the community college family are also participating in the First Flight celebrations. Dorie Ricter, director of institutional effectiveness at Beaufort County Community College, is a licensed pilot and also a member of the North Carolina Aeronautics Council. She has been very active in preparations for the anniversary.

Ann DeBoever, mathematics instructor at Catawba Valley Community College, is paying close attention to the festivities. Her son, Sky, has served as an Ambassador of the First Flight Centennial Commission since 1998 when he was one of 36 students to win an essay contest in the 7th grade. Sky’s essay discussed the impact of the Wright brothers and how flight has changed in the last 100 years. “Seventh graders were chosen because they would graduate in 2003, the year of the anniversary,” said DeBoever.

As an Ambassador, Sky traveled to Ohio to see the Wright Brothers Museum, an air show and a balloon festival. “He got to meet First Flight students in Ohio as well and he really enjoyed meeting them,” said DeBoever. The Ambassadors also traveled to Norfolk Virginia and the Outer Banks. Sky is now a freshman at Gardner-Webb University majoring in history and political science. “He really enjoyed being a part of the First Flight celebrations,” said his mother.

The Internet has many First Flight sites including one designed by two students and their instructor from Robeson Community College. Lawton Baker and Shirlease Samuel, students in Information Systems Technology, and their instructor, Loretta Allen designed the web site


that incorporated the creative efforts of children and teachers. The web site provides links to several historical and information sites pertaining to flight. The trio were honored in May, and the page is an official project of the First Flight Centennial Commission.

“Beats video games by a long shot”

Fewer than 50 years after the Wright brothers flight at Kitty Hawk, man began to seriously consider space travel. Jim Tart, program head and instructor of the electronics engineering technology program at Vance-Granville Community College, was an engineer at NASA at Langley, Virginia in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

“Our job was to make sure that man could fly safely in space and get back home safely,” said Tart, who worked in the instrument research division. “One of the things we did was to see how many times a space vehicle would be hit by a meteor. You’ve got to get the astronaut back safely home for space travel to work.”

Tart is especially proud to be a recipient of the E.H. Rietzke Achievement Award. He received the award for his work on the development of a telemetering system that helps overcome the communication blackout that occurs when a spacecraft re-enters the earth’s atmosphere.

The Harnett County native became a pilot himself when he worked at NASA. He met many of the early astronauts who did their training at the Langley facility and he admires President Kennedy for his vision of space travel. “He had a greater vision than we did,” said Tart. “He really believed that man would get to the moon by the end of the 1960’s, and I am not sure many of us who worked there believed that.”

Today, Tart actively involves his students in NASA events. “Our students are following the progress of the two robots NASA sent to Mars in June that will land there in January,” he said. “Our students built two robots in their robotics systems classes and will relate their models to the Mars Exploration Rovers. Every kid that loves science should be involved with this space exploration. It beats video games by a long shot.”

“Like the most thrilling ride at any theme park”

J.J. Porter, instructor in the aviation technology program at Lenoir Community College, was a Marine pilot for a number of years before becoming a teacher.

Porter always wanted to fly — his father and uncles were pilots during World War II and he grew up hearing their stories. “It was something I always loved,” said Porter, who learned to fly while still in college at Tulane University. Porter joined the Marines after college and flew such aircraft as the CH53 Sea Station and the T28 Trojan. “It’s a lot of fun to fly,” he said. “It’s probably like the most thrilling ride at any theme park. It always takes your breath away. It still does.”

Eventually, Porter became the pilot of a VH3 Sea King, better known as Marine One, the Marines version of Air Force One. Porter was the Marine pilot for Presidents Carter and Reagan, their vice presidents, families, the White House Press Corps, secret service agents and other dignitaries.

“The most memorable experience was when I flew President Reagan, and I was the commander,” said Porter. “I had total responsibility of the life of the president in my hands. It was a tremendous responsibility, but we train for it and that’s our job.”

Today, Porter brings his experience to the classroom and is proud that his students are doing well. Five of his students, Ryan French, Kevin Hathaway, Jason Joslin, Austin O’Neal and Tom Perry, received numerous honors at the National Intercollegiate Flying Association’s Region 10 Safety and Flight Evaluation Conference (SAFECON) held in Maryland in November.

If the Wright brothers were to visit North Carolina today, they would find many people enjoying their invention. Many of those people are at North Carolina’s community colleges.