Wright Flyer

Wright Flyer Detailed Re-creation

The detail re-creation of the Wright Flyer will be completed with aid of working drawings supplied by the Smithsonian Museum.    There will be a number of links that will be relevant to the area I am working on.  I will start with the engine and work my way through, giving viewers all the details of the design and materials.

History of the Wright Flyer

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 The Wright Flyer (often retrospectively referred to as Flyer I or 1903 Flyer) was the first successful heavier-than-air powered aircraft. It was designed and built by the Wright brothers. They flew it four times on December 17, 1903, near Kill Devil Hills, about four miles (6.4 km) south of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Today, the airplane is exhibited in the National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. The U.S. Smithsonian Institution describes the aircraft as “the first powered, heavier-than-air machine to achieve controlled, sustained flight with a pilot aboard.”   The flight of Flyer I marks the beginning of the “pioneer era” of aviation.

Design and construction

The Flyer was based on the Wrights’ experience testing gliders at Kitty Hawk between 1900 and 1902. Their last glider, the 1902 Glider, led directly to the design of the Flyer.

The Wrights built the aircraft in 1903 using giant spruce wood as their construction material. The wings were designed with a 1-in-20 camber. Since they could not find a suitable automobile engine for the task, they commissioned their employee Charlie Taylor to build a new design from scratch, effectively a crude 12 horsepower gasoline engine.   A sprocket chain drive, borrowing from bicycle technology, powered the twin propellers, which were also made by hand.

The Flyer was a bicanard biplane configuration. As with the gliders, the pilot flew lying on his stomach on the lower wing with his head toward the front of the craft in an effort to reduce drag. He steered by moving a cradle attached to his hips. The cradle pulled wires which warped the wings and turned the rudder simultaneously.

The Flyer‘s “runway” was a track of 2x4s stood on their narrow edge, which the brothers nicknamed the “Junction Railroad.”

Flight trials at Kitty Hawk

Upon returning to Kitty Hawk in 1903, the Wrights completed assembly of the Flyer while practicing on the 1902 Glider from the previous season. On December 14, 1903, they felt ready for their first attempt at powered flight. With the help of men from the nearby government life-saving station, the Wrights moved the Flyer and its launching rail to the incline of a nearby sand dune, Big Kill Devil Hill, intending to make a gravity-assisted takeoff. The brothers tossed a coin to decide who would get the first chance at piloting, and Wilbur won. The airplane left the rail, but Wilbur pulled up too sharply, stalled, and came down after 312 seconds with minor damage.

Repairs after the abortive first flight took three days. When they were ready again on December 17, the wind was averaging more than 20 miles per hour (32 km/h), so the brothers laid the launching rail on level ground, pointed into the wind, near their camp. This time the wind, instead of an inclined launch, provided the necessary airspeed for takeoff. Because Wilbur had already had the first chance, Orville took his turn at the controls. His first flight lasted 12 seconds for a total distance of 120 feet (37 m) – shorter than the wingspan of a Boeing 747, as noted by observers in the 2003 commemoration of the first flight.

Taking turns, the Wrights made four brief, low-altitude flights that day. The flight paths were all essentially straight; turns were not attempted. Each flight ended in a bumpy and unintended “landing.” The last flight, by Wilbur, was 852 feet (260 m) in 59 seconds, much longer than each of the three previous flights of 120, 175 and 200 feet (37, 53 and 61 m). The landing broke the front elevator supports, which the Wrights hoped to repair for a possible four-mile (6.4 km) flight to Kitty Hawk village. Soon after, a heavy gust picked up the Flyer and tumbled it end over end, damaging it beyond any hope of quick repair. It was never flown again.

Distant view of the Wright airplane just after landing, taken from the starting point, with wing-rest in center of picture and launching rail at right. This flight, the fourth and final of December 17, 1903, was the longest: 852 feet (260 m) covered in 59 seconds.   Photo first published 1908.

In 1904, the Wrights continued refining their designs and piloting techniques in order to obtain fully controlled flight. Major progress toward this goal was achieved with a new Flyer in 1904 and even more decisively in 1905 with a third Flyer, in which Wilbur made a 39-minute, 24-mile (39 km) nonstop circling flight on October 5.   While the 1903 Flyer was clearly a historically important test vehicle, its hallowed status in the American imagination has obscured the role of its two successors in the continuing development that led to the Wrights’ mastery of controlled powered flight in 1905.

The influence of the Flyer

The Flyer series of aircraft were the first to achieve controlled heavier-than-air flight, but some of the mechanical techniques the Wrights used to accomplish this were not influential for the development of aviation as a whole, although their theoretical achievements were. The Flyer design depended on wing-warping and a foreplane or “canard” for pitch control, features which would not scale and produced a hard-to-control aircraft. However, the Wrights’ pioneering use of “roll control” by twisting the wings to change wingtip angle in relation to the airstream led directly to the more practical use of ailerons by their imitators, such as Curtiss and Farman. The Wrights’ original concept of simultaneous coordinated roll and yaw control (rear rudder deflection), which they discovered in 1902, perfected in 1903–1905, and patented in 1906, represents the solution to controlled flight and is used today on virtually every fixed-wing aircraft. The Wright patent included the use of hinged rather than warped surfaces for the forward elevator and rear rudder. Other features that made the Flyer a success were highly efficient wings and propellers, which resulted from the Wrights’ exacting wind tunnel tests and made the most of the marginal power delivered by their early “homebuilt” engines; slow flying speeds (and hence survivable accidents); and an incremental test/development approach. The future of aircraft design, however, lay with rigid wings, ailerons and rear control surfaces. A British patent of 1868 for aileron technology  had apparently been completely forgotten by the time the 20th century dawned.

After a single statement to the press in January 1904 and a failed public demonstration in May, the Wright Brothers did not publicize their efforts, and other aviators who were working on the problem of flight (notably Alberto Santos-Dumont) were thought by the press to have preceded them by many years. Indeed, several short heavier-than-air powered flights had been made by other aviators before 1903, leading to controversy about precedence (see Early flying machines). The Wrights, however, claimed to be the first of these which was “properly controlled.”

The issue of control was correctly seen as critical by the Wrights, and they acquired a wide American patent intended to give them ownership of basic aerodynamic control. This was fought in both American and European courts. European designers, however, were little affected by the litigation and continued their own development. The legal fight in the U.S., however, had a crushing effect on the nascent American aircraft industry, and by the time of World War I, the U.S. had no suitable military aircraft and had to purchase French and British models.

Flyer stability

The Flyer was conceived as a control-canard, as the Wrights were more concerned with control than stability.  However, it was found to be so highly unstable that it was barely controllable.  During flight tests near Dayton the Wrights added ballast to the nose of the aircraft to move the center of gravity forward and reduce pitch instability. However the basics of pitch stability of the canard configuration were not understood by the Wright Brothers. F.E.C. Culick stated, “The backward state of the general theory and understanding of flight mechanics hindered them… Indeed, the most serious gap in their knowledge was probably the basic reason for their unwitting mistake in selecting their canard configuration.”

The Flyer after Kitty Hawk

The Wright Brothers returned home to Dayton for Christmas after the flights of the Kitty Hawk Flyer. While they had abandoned their other gliders, they realized the historical significance of the Flyer. They shipped the heavily damaged craft back to Dayton, where it remained stored in crates behind a Wright Company shed for 9 years. The Great Dayton Flood of March 1913 covered the flyer in mud and water for 11 days.

Charlie Taylor relates in a 1948 article that the Flyer nearly got disposed of by the Wrights themselves. In early 1912 Roy Knabenshue, The Wrights Exhibition team manager, had a conversation with Wilbur and asked Wilbur what they planned to do with the Flyer. Wilbur said they most likely will burn it, as they had the 1904 machine. According to Taylor, Knabenshue talked Wilbur out of disposing of the machine for historical purposes.

In 1910 the Wrights first made attempts to exhibit the Flyer in the Smithsonian Institution but talks fell through with the ensuing lawsuits against Glenn Curtiss and the Flyer may have been needed as repeated evidence in court cases. Wilbur died in 1912, and in 1916, as the patent fights were ending, Orville brought the Flyer out of storage and prepared it for display at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He replaced parts of the wing covering, the props, and the engine’s crankcase, crankshaft, and flywheel. The crankcase, crankshaft and flywheel of the original engine had been sent to the Aero Club of America in New York for an exhibit in 1906 and were never returned to the Wrights. The replacement crankcase, crankshaft and flywheel came from the experimental engine Charlie Taylor had built in 1904 and used for testing in the bicycle shop. A replica crankcase of the flyer is on display at the visitor center at the Wright Brothers National Memorial.

 

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