Modern replica must be superior to the Wright-brothers aircraft

Into the air with an 1903-aircraft


To fly a home-made aircraft that you've designed in your spare time sounds at least a bit risky. Nevertheless, nearly hundred years ago, two bicycle repair men did not shrink from attempting this. The Americans Wilbur and Orville Wright, owners of their own shop in Dayton, Ohio, spent many months designing an aircraft. On December 17th, 1903, they laid the foundations for modern aviation. Then, at Kitty Hawk beach, the first flight took place of the Wright Flyer. Now, almost one century later, a group of enthusiasts have the intention to replay the flight in 2003. With a self-made Flyer.

It was a raw December day when Wilbur and Orville started the little engine for the second time. Three days before, on December 14th, their first try ended in a failure. Wilbur, who was then at the controls, pitched the aircraft up to soon. The result: a damaged airplane that had made only a little jump into the air.

Now, on December the 17th things appear to be going better. The repaired aircraft is ready again and stands on the beach of North Carolina, on the American East Coast. There is a stiff breeze through which the aircraft can start.

Orville, whose turn it is now, lies on the lower wing. The engine is started. Under the eyes of his brother and some people on the beach he puts the throttle to the maximum. The engine grumbles and the aircraft slowly leaves the rails on the beach. What failed a couple of days ago is now a success: The aircraft flies!

The flight of one century ago is the reason that the fifty people of the Wright Flyer Association will renew the product of the two brothers of Ohio. They want to do exactly the same as the Wrights did, but now, in December 2003.

In contrast with the first Flyer, their aircraft is well-proven. Even the wind tunnels of NASA have been used to test the replica. Chairman Jack Cherne thinks it will be the same as a hundred years ago. "We all have the desire to see the flyer in the air again." Before that, much work needs to be done.

The team has much more experience then other builders of replicas, because all the people working on it are associated with the aviation industry. Cherne: "We all have the knowledge to build a solid aircraft. And the wind tunnel tests are helping us." The tests are essential, according to Cherne. "All replicas that have been built until now have crashed. In its nature it is a very unstable aircraft."

The Wright Flyer Association has been working for twenty years on the project. "All our work is done during spare time," tells Cherne. "But now we want to be ready before December 17th, 2003. At this moment we get a lot of help from outside. Besides that, we use the original Flyer as a pattern aircraft, which is in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC."

During the project, Chernes' respect for the Wrights has grown. "They knew only a little of what we know nowadays."

Behind the technical preparations, the team also started with the preparation of a pilot. Fred Culick, professor at the California Institute of Technology, has been chosen to be the first pilot. At this moment he is learning to fly the aircraft in a simulator, which has been converted from a Lear jet-simulator.

Once ready, the Flyer will tour through the United States. The journey has to end in December at the Outer Banks, off the coast of North Carolina. There, a short distance from the Wright Brothers National Memorial, the flyer has to take to the air again. Whether or not the replica will be airworthy remains a mystery until then.

The original article was published in the July 17th edition of  the Dutch magazine Terdege. It is reprinted here with permission of the author.