Re-creating the flight of the Wrights


A group of aeronautics enthusiasts plan to build a replica of the Wright brothers' biplane and fly it on the 100th anniversary of the first successful flight. Like the original, the Wright Flyer, it will be built using piano wire, cotton wing coverings and spruce propellers, but unlike the brothers' aircraft, the new version will have undergone a battery of engineering tests and studies.

Orville and Wilbur Wright took to the air on December 17th, 1903, at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. They covered only 120 feet during a 12-second flight, flying low and at just 30 m.p.h. Volunteers from the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics in California plan to re-create this effort using a replica biplane in 2003.

They have created one full-scale replica which is undergoing wind tunnel testing at NASA's Ames Research Centre in California using the largest wind tunnel in the world. The craft was built using detailed information about the original plane provided by the Smithsonian Institute.

Researchers hope to learn more about the plane's stability, control and handling characteristics to produce an aerodynamic database. "Testing the Wright Flyer gives us a chance to relive history," stated Mr Craig Hange, Ames' wind tunnel test engineer.

It took the volunteers 18 years to build their first replica, but they plan to have a second, airworthy version ready for December 2003. They have already chosen a pilot for their new Wright Flyer, Dr Fred Culick (63), a private pilot and an aeronautics professor at the California Institute of Technology.