First to Fly

North Carolina and the Beginnings of Aviation

By Thomas C. Parramore

First to Fly

388 pp., 6 x 9, 109 photos, 2 maps, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-5470-9
    Published: May 2003

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Awards & distinctions

Endorsed by the First Flight Centennial Commission

A remarkable story filled with dreamers, inventors, scoundrels, and pioneering pilots, First to Fly recounts North Carolina's significant role in the early history of aviation. Beginning well before the Wright brothers' first powered flight at Kill Devil Hill in 1903, North Carolinians labored at the cutting edge of aviation technology from the late 1800s through World War I.

North Carolina was a launching ground for real and imaginary ballooning adventures as early as 1789. Powered experiments, including what seems to have been America's first airplane, gained momentum in the late nineteenth century. Tar Heel mechanics and inventors also built a dirigible and, arguably, the world's first successful helicopter.

Tom Parramore's account of the Wrights' experiments and turn-of-the-century Dare County provides new information on the crucial role of Outer Bankers in ensuring the Wrights' success. Without this aid, he argues, it is unlikely that the miracle of flight would have first been achieved in 1903--or in America. After 1903, growth in the new aviation industry, spurred by World War I, outpaced North Carolina's ability to play a major role. But the state produced some of the most notable airmen and women of the era, furnishing hundreds of pilots to the war effort.

About the Author

Thomas C. Parramore (1932-2004) taught history at Meredith College in Raleigh and was author of numerous books, including Norfolk: The First Four Centuries.
For more information about Thomas C. Parramore, visit the Author Page.


“Has an uncommon depth, fluidity, and fullness of thought that make[s] the book a joy to read.”

"Parramore's readable volume discusses balloons, airships, and airplanes and is a well-crafted, welcome addition that adds new perspective to both North Carolina and aviation history."--North Carolina Historical Review

"Parramore catches the exuberance of the 'birdman' era of the years prior to WWI and does a good job of capturing the spirit of adventure that led many well-intentioned young men to join the Lafayette Escadrille during the Great War."--Choice

"While First to Fly will certainly appeal to aviation buffs and devotees of North Carolina history, it is also a fascinating tale of American ingenuity, bravery, and determination."--American History

"Parramore's work is a delightful story of the place of North Carolina in the early days of flight. . . . Chock full of amusing anecdotes, this charming book is a must-read for students of early aviation and anyone who would like to know more about the history of aviation and technology in North Carolina."--Historian

"A delight of Thomas C. Parramore's First to Fly is its movement from one good story to another, its lack of aeronautical jargon, and its dependence on character and tale to offer engaging history. . . . First to Fly climbs high, lands smoothly, teaches us about ourselves. . . . Parramore has discovered a buried North Carolina aviation legacy."--Clyde Edgerton, Raleigh News & Observer