"IT TAKES ONLY NINETEEN SECONDS TO WALK THE DISTANCE OF the first flight. But when I was there the
wind was up and cold on my face, and I felt as if I'd entered the black-and-white photograph I'd been
seeing all my life. The sand is light gray, there's a spill of surf in the distance. Wilbur, running at
the right of the plane, and Orville, the pilot, are in dark suits. The propellers blur against the sky
as the machine rises."
"The 1902 Wright brothers glider, after some modification, was a success. They were confident they could
build a machine that would take off and travel under its own power; it was now a matter of finding an engine
that was weight-effective and a propeller that would work in air as opposed to water. But just a year earlier
they'd seemed ready to quit. The 1901 model hadn't produced the lift they needed or expected. They left the
Outer Banks in late August after weeks of erratic flying and discouraging rain. On the train home to Ohio,
Wilbur talked with his brother, recalling later, "When we looked at the time and money which we had expended
and considered the progress made and the distance yet to go, we considered our experiments a failure. At this
time I made the prediction that man would sometime fly but that it would not be within our lifetime."
"Back in their Dayton bike shop, Wilbur and his brother soon solved the puzzle, using trigonometry, scraps
of metal, bits of bicycle spokes, and a motor-driven fan to generate wind. They crafted a six-foot-Iong wooden
tunnel, with a glass section in the top for viewing; the airflow inside was about thirty miles an hour. Then
they fashioned all sorts of tiny wing shapes, mounting them at differing angles on delicate balance instruments
in order to calculate their efficiency. They could measure lift-the upward force produced by the airstream, and
drag, the force generated by the wing. The brothers kept meticulous records, and at the end of the wind tunnel
sessions they had a large array lift and drag coefficients from which to design their wings."
Ken Hyde shows me the airy wood skeleton of the '03, the wing assemblies of ash ribs-120 total-that have
been cut and soaked and steamed and bent into their curves, waiting to be covered with fabric. It is admirable
workmanship. Ken says, "The tools of the early 1900s for doing things by hand were far better than we've got today.
Sharper ripsaws and gouges. It takes someone who's got some use in his fingers to do what they did.
They even made their own taps and dies."
"The prop shop is next. Using wind-tunnel data, the Wrights built their own propellers, because they
quickly realized that designs intended for boats were useless out of the water. Ken says, "This is probably
their biggest discovery and the thing they've been given the least credit for. They were the first people to
determine that the propeller is actually a wing in rotation. It had to be the hardest thing they undertook,
making those. We tried to find a prop company that would carve them for us, but the old-timers who knew how
to do it were gone or too old."
"Wilbur and Orville built a metal tower twenty feet high, coming to a peak at the top like a teepee.
A pulley system raised 1,600 pounds of lead weights. A rope ran from the top of the tower, down under
the rail to the front, and then back up along the top to connect with the plane. One brother and Charlie
Taylor, and perhaps some friends or passersby, helped haul on the rope to lift the weights. The other
brother, prone in the pilot's position on the lower wing, gave a signal and the weights fell and catapulted
the plane along the track and into the air."
Web link file -
The Flyers by Noah Adams