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Wind Tunnel Tests Will Unlock Secret to Operating Wright Flyer Reproduction

(Click for larger view)
Photo Chuck Thomas, Old Dominion University

March 6, 2003 - EAA’s authentic reproduction of the 1903 Wright Flyer, the central element of its Countdown to Kitty Hawk initiative presented by Ford Motor Company, underwent two weeks of wind tunnel tests at the end of February at Old Dominion University’s 73-year-old Langley Full Scale Tunnel (LFST) in Hampton, Virginia.

The ’03 Flyer reproduction, in final building stages by Ken Hyde and the Wright Experience in Warrenton, Virginia, is scheduled to fly at precisely 10:35 a.m. on December 17, 2003—exactly 100 years after the famous first powered flight by Orville Wright—at the Wright Brothers National Memorial in North Carolina.

(Click for larger view)
Photo Chuck Thomas, Old Dominion University

But first, the four potential “Pilots of the Century” who may be selected to fly the primitive aircraft have to know how to safely fly and control it. Over the next month or so, ODU engineers will crunch the numbers generated by the tests to determine just that. The information will not only document the aircraft’s flying characteristics, but will also help create the first accurate flight simulator. The data will be entered into a computer simulator with a video screen showing the terrain at Kill Devil Hills.

Engineers used two different motors during tests: a gasoline-powered reproduction of the primitive engine designed and built by the Wrights in 1903, and an electric motor donated by Teco-Westinghouse Motor Co. that can be controlled precisely during wind tunnel testing.

“Rediscovering the secrets of the Wright brothers to inspire a new generation is what motivates the Wright Experience,” Hyde said. “These wind tunnel tests will help us re-create the Wrights’ historic accomplishment and reduce the risk involved in the reproduction flight later this year.”

(Click for larger view)
Photo Chuck Thomas, Old Dominion University

“We can’t predict what the weather will be December 17, 2003, when the Wright Experience plans to fly the EAA Flyer reproduction,” said Professor Robert Ash, ODU Wright test program manager. “We only know the original Flyer could be flown on a cold day into a 27 mph wind. The wind tunnel test results will give us the necessary knowledge to guide and train pilots for virtually all eventualities.”

Orville Wright, the first man to fly, was on the advisory committee that established NASA’s Langley Research Center in 1917. Wright also visited Langley a number of times. “NASA Langley is proud to sponsor wind tunnel tests of this accurate, authentic reproduction of the Wright Flyer,” said Ed Prior, deputy director of Langley’s Office of Education. “In fact, we have at least one picture of Orville Wright taken in the very same tunnel where the Wright Flyer reproduction is being tested.”


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