|Volume: 01, Issue: 19||12/17/2003|
History in the Re-MakingWhen the historically accurate reproduction of the 1903 Wright Flyer airplane tried to fly today, the 100th anniversary of the first powered flight, it had passion, modern engineering science and NASA wind tunnel test results helping it. Proving, perhaps, just how difficult of a struggle the Wright brothers overcame when they flew their first 40 feet over the course of 12 seconds, this flyer couldn't quite make it off the ground.
Ken Hyde, founder of the Wright Experience in Warrenton, Virginia, has passionately worked for years to uncover the secrets of Orville and Wilbur Wright, the Ohio bicycle maker brothers credited with making the first successful powered flight.
Hyde and his team painstakingly recreated propellers, gliders and aircraft in an attempt to figure out how the Wright brothers flew for 12 seconds in 27 mph winds over the sand dunes of North Carolina's Outer Banks on Dec.17, 1903. They got their chance to test their creation this week at the First Flight Centennial Celebration near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.
"We have been working almost 10 years on the research aspect of this," Hyde said before the flight. "The machine we plan to fly is three years in the building. I have often been asked why we are doing it. The answer is because nobody has done it, and it needs to be done."
Four years ago Hyde turned to NASA's Langley Research Center (LaRC) in Hampton, Virginia, and Old Dominion University (ODU) in Norfolk, Virginia, to better understand the engineering science behind the Wrights' efforts.
Hyde started by bringing wooden propellers, hand crafted to Wright specifications, to the Full Scale Wind Tunnel, owned by LaRC and operated by ODU. Hyde progressed to authentic reproductions of two Wright gliders and the Wright Flyer reproduction. ODU engineering professors and students tested the equipment.
"The Wright propellers were 20 years ahead of their time," said Professor Robert Ash, Wright test program manager for ODU. "They were able to convert engine power into thrust with the efficiency required to enable a small and heavy gasoline engine to propel the Wright Flyer. The December 17, 1903, flight was not possible without the Wright propeller designs, and this contribution has been largely overlooked."
According to Ash, what the Wrights didn't do was design a stable aircraft. He and others studied hours of wind tunnel test data from the two Wright gliders and the reproduction to reach that conclusion. "Just like their bicycle heritage, the Wrights deliberately exploited instabilities to effect dynamic flight control," Ash said. "Flying the Wright Flyer is like trying to keep a bicycle upright in three dimensions."
The nature of the aircraft affected the way the four Wright Experience pilots trained. They received expert guidance from a simulator, created using the LaRC Full Scale Tunnel data, and from a former NASA test pilot, Scott Crossfield. Crossfield was the first American to fly at twice the speed of sound, more than 50 years ago.
"They're all very capable aviators," Crossfield said. "But they've had to unlearn most of what they know about flying stable airplanes. Very few people have flown unstable airplanes."
One of the aviators is Kevin Kochersberger, an associate professor from the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York. He helped manage most of the wind tunnel tests. During training in North Carolina last month, he successfully got the Flyer reproduction off the ground.
"Being a scientist and engineer are important qualifications for flying this aircraft," said Kochersberger. "I've been looking at the characteristics of the Wright Flyer for four years. Being in the wind tunnel with it really made a difference."
Though they were unable to fly the craft today, it still stands as a testament to the rich heritage of air travel over the past century and a poignant reminder of how far aviation has come.
To learn more about the Centennial of Flight, visit:
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