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Gliding in Orville’s air space

Parkland pilot Bill Jokerst recently took part in a three-day event commemorating the 100th anniversary of Orville Wright’s historic solo flight at Kitty Hawk, N.C. At the event, Soaring 100, he flew a classic Olympia 2B glider in the same airspace where aeronautic history was once made by Orville and his brother, Wilbur Wright.

Almost a century ago, on October 24, 1911, Orville Wright soared for nine minutes and 45 seconds at Kitty Hawk, a record that held for almost 10 years. The flight is generally accepted by flying enthusiasts to have been the start of the sport and science of modern soaring.  Jokerst, a Farmington resident, is a member of the Olympia group, an association made up of six glider enthusiasts.

“One of my fellow group members was an organizer of Soaring 100 and invited me to come out and participate,” said Jokerst.

More than 10,000 people attended the event held Oct. 21-24 at the Wright Brothers National Memorial and Jockey’s Ridge State Park.

Months prior to the event, a proclamation was issued recognizing the historical and cultural significance of Soaring 100 and designating October as Soaring Heritage Month. The proclamation further summarized the Wright brothers’ work on the Outer Banks, their aviation “firsts” and continuing legacy, as well as the partnership of aviation organizations in marking the centennial.

Wright Brothers National Memorial, located in Kill Devil Hills, commemorates the first successful, sustained, powered flights in a heavier-than-air machine. From 1900 to 1903, Wilbur and Orville Wright came to the site from Dayton, Ohio, based on information received from the U.S. Weather Bureau about the area’s steady winds. The pair also reportedly valued the privacy, both from onlookers and newspaper reporters, provided by the location which, in the early 20th century, was remote from major population centers.

It was not until 1911; however, that Orville made the record making glider flight celebrated by Soaring 100.

“The (centennial event) featured a cavalcade of gliders,” said Jokerst. “There was a 1930 TG3 used to train fighter pilots; a 1947 Granu Baby; and the Olympia 2B, of which I’m part owner.”

Jokerst said the design for the Olympia 2B was created in the late 1930s to fly in the 1940 Olympics. It was built by a furniture company and only 100 were ever made.

The plan didn’t come to pass because the 1940 Olympic games never took place. Originally scheduled to be held from Sept. 21 to Oct. 6, 1940, in Tokyo, Japan, the games were canceled due to the outbreak of World War II.

“The one our Olympia Group co-owns was purchased by the Royal Navy Gliding and Soaring Club,” explained Jokerst. “The next owner was a group made up of semi-retired British engineers and mechanics. They sold it to a man in Kentucky who only flew it three times. We got it in 2007.”

Jokerst, a retired banker born and raised in Bloomsdale, Ill., said he always had a desire to fly.

“In 1974 I got my pilots license and in the 90s I got involved in a gliding club in eastern Illinois,” he said. “I love playing with vintage gliders, mostly pre-1958.”

Jokerst said that having the opportunity to take part in the centennial event at Kitty Hawk was a memorable experience.

“We were allowed to fly all three days set aside for the event, weather permitting, although the 24th was the actual anniversary date of Orville’s flight,” he said. “On Thursday we assembled our gliders and they were towed five to six miles from Mandeo, N.C., where they were hangered, to the Wright Brothers National Memorial. We were released, circled and landed at the actual site where Orville landed his glider a century ago. It was quite a thrill to see the stone recognizing the brothers’ accomplishment as I came in for a landing.”

One of Jokerst’s fondest memories of the event, he said, was having his son, Scott, crew for him.

“He came to Soaring 100 to help me out,” he explained. “Scott pushed gliders around and helped with launches.”

Jokerst said that while many people are aware of the Wright Brothers, far fewer know of their love for gliding.

“Both enjoyed their experience with gliders,” he said. “In 1939, Orville was even quoted as saying that he thought flying gliders was more fun than flying airplanes.”

The brothers made their initial decision to practice gliding in order to master the art of control before attempting motor-driven flight. At the outset of their experiments they regarded control as the unsolved third part of “the flying problem.”  On the basis of observation, Wilbur concluded that birds changed the angle of the ends of their wings to make their bodies roll right or left. The brothers decided this would also be a good way for a flying machine to turn – to “bank” or “lean” into the turn just like a bird – and just like a person riding a bicycle, an experience with which they were very familiar.

In 1900 the brothers journeyed to Kitty Hawk to begin their manned gliding experiments. It wasn’t until that October day in 1911; however, that Orville Wright once again returned to the Outer Banks and made his historic solo flight that was celebrated this fall at Soaring 100.

In recognizing the significance of the brothers’ accomplishments in the field of aeronautics, the National Air and Space Museum stated, “The decade after the Wright brothers flew at Kitty Hawk in 1903 witnessed a wide range of reactions to the new technology. Human flight was so significant and revolutionary a breakthrough that its influence went well beyond the aeronautical community.

“The airplane had meaning for everyone — from popular enthusiasm for the pilots and their aerial exhibitions, to the commercial and military potential of aviation, to the broad cultural implications of flight, to the artistic expression it inspired.

“The impact of the airplane on the 20th century is beyond measure. The Wrights not only solved a long-studied technical problem, but also helped create an entirely new world. Speculation on what that world would be like began with our first tentative leaps into the air.”

Bill Jokerst has no doubt that the Wright brothers have had a significant impact on his life and on the lives of glider enthusiasts all around the world.

Kevin R. Jenkins is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-431-2010, ext. 114 or at 

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