Motor Company Team Helps Uncover Elusive Secrets of the Wright
Ford engineers test authentic reproduction of 1903 Wright
engine in Dearborn lab
- Using the same sophisticated
engine testing facilities it uses to develop automobiles, Ford
Motor Company is helping to ensure the integrity and success
of the reproduction 1903 Wright Flyer that will exclusively
re-enact the Wright brothers’ first flight near Kitty Hawk,
N.C., on its 100th anniversary.
- Ford is celebrating its aviation
history and shared 100th anniversary year with the Wright
brothers’ first flight by sponsoring EAA’s Countdown to
Kitty Hawk and producing Lincoln Aviator SUVs.
DEARBORN, Mich. - Secretive
aviation pioneers Orville and Wilbur Wright left few clues about
how they achieved their historic first powered, controlled flight
nearly 100 years ago. But Ford Motor Company has been able to
solve some of the mystery and preserve the information for
generations of innovators to come.
Mich. - Jim and Steve Hay adjust their 1903 Wright engine
reproduction as it runs in Ford's Dynamometer Lab.
At its Dynamometer Laboratory in
Dearborn, Mich. - the same facility Ford uses to develop
powertrains of the future - the company conducted a controlled
testing of the engine that will power the only authentic,
full-scale reproduction of the Wright brothers' 1903 Flyer. The
engine and plane will re-enact the Wrights' first flight this
December - 100 years from the historic moment.
A team of a dozen Ford engineers,
technicians and supervisors worked with the builders of the
reproduction 1903 Wright engine to test and analyze its crude
design and determine the power and efficiency of the engine that
put the Wrights in history books. Ford's role in testing the
engine was not to make improvements, but to help understand the
design in theory.
"There were a lot of engine
changes or alternate design modifications that could have been
recommended by the Ford engineers," said Hugh Brooks, the
Ford Motor Company engineer who led the team that performed the
landmark engine testing. "However, the objective was to
maintain historical accuracy, use similar processes and the same
materials. I believe we achieved that."
While extensive testing helped
ensure the success and integrity of the reproduction airplane for
its re-enactment flight, the testing also revealed fascinating
details about the Wrights' historic achievement. View a fact sheet
detailing key results from the testing.
"The ability of Ford Motor
Company to capture the engine performance and other materials
testing data and have it available for future generations are
perhaps Ford's greatest contributions," Brooks said.
One for the history books
Steve Hay and Jim Hay of Hay Manufacturing in Lake Geneva, Wis.,
spent decades diligently researching the Wrights' engine designs.
Even though the original drawings no longer exist, the Hays were
able to reproduce the 1903 engine by piecing together bits of
information and a variety of plans along with clues from countless
photographs from the era to faithfully follow the Wrights' design.
They then hand-built the engine using authentic materials to power
the 1903 Wright Flyer reproduction built by The Wright Experience
of Warrenton, Va., for EAA's Countdown to Kitty Hawk Presented by
Ford Motor Company.
"No single set of drawings in
existence will make an engine you can put together," Steve
Hay said. "It was a real detective job."
Mich. -- Jim and Steve Hay adjust their 1903 Wright engine
reproduction as it runs in Ford's Dynamometer Lab.
When the engine runs, it is loud,
smoky, leaks oil, isn't very fuel-efficient and is susceptible to
wear and tear - characteristics consumers would never accept in a
modern automobile. "It was an experiment," Jim Hay said.
"The Wright brothers designed it to do a specific job and run
for just a few minutes."
The Hay brothers let out a whoop as
the engine sputtered and came to life for the first time in one of
Ford's specialized single-cylinder dynamometer test cells. It was
the first time anyone saw the historic engine in full operation.
"Thanks to Ford, we're getting data even the Wright brothers
never had," Jim Hay said as instruments churned out
performance numbers for the crude engine.
Ford's transfers modern-day
technology to yesterday
Multiple sensors were installed on the engine and the dynamometer
to provide torque, speed and temperature information vital to
understanding how the engine is performing. In-cylinder pressure
transducers were also used to provide an "inside view"
of what was actually occurring inside the engines combustion
chambers. This same data is collected and used on a daily basis by
Ford engineers to develop the powertrains for its vehicles.
"The engine is an incredibly
simple solution to the problems the Wrights faced," Brooks
said. "They knew they needed to develop an engine with just
the right amount of horsepower that would drive the propellers and
provide the necessary thrust and still be as light as
The tests pinpointed issues with
the engine the Hays could not have found on their own, Brooks
said. "For example, Ford engineers were able to suggest
modifications to the intake manifold to make the engine run
successfully under full power load," he said. "If they
had run this engine at Kitty Hawk on the 100th anniversary without
that knowledge, the plane probably wouldn't fly."
Ford's role in the build process
Earlier in the plane reproduction process, Ford analyzed 17
different samples of materials taken from the Wright brothers'
test engine on loan from the Engineers Club of Dayton, Ohio, as
well as metal wires for the wing struts to determine their
physical and chemical characteristics.
"The testing we performed at
the Ford facilities is important because we're reaching the end of
an era of Wright family members from whom we can glean more
information," said Gayle Gullen, the Ford materials engineer
who led a 10-person team at the company's materials testing
laboratory in Dearborn. "Our aim was to identify materials
used 100 years ago and reference to modern-day materials to ensure
authenticity of the reproduction. We expected to find more raw
materials, but many of the parts were more refined than we
thought. For example, the oil pan residue we found was mostly the
same type of mineral oil used in today's engines."
This testing involves the same
processes and equipment Ford uses to improve the quality and
performance of its vehicles. "By having metallurgical,
chemistry and polymer labs within one department, we can get to
the root of almost any problem through chemical, environmental or
physical testing," said Bob Mull, director of Ford Product
Analysis and Verification.
Ford also provided specialized
equipment for shop operations required to manufacture specific
parts of the wooden airplane and propellers and was consulted on
wing fabric material and remanufacture.
Ford Motor Company's historic
connection with aviation
The history of Ford Motor Company is inseparably linked with the
history of flight. The automobile company was founded the same
year - 1903 - as the Wright brothers' famous flight and in the
same spirit of innovation and scientific optimism. As one of the
premier innovators of his generation, Henry Ford helped put the
nation on wings through his efforts to develop aircraft to serve
the public, then built public confidence in their safety,
reliability and necessity.
The efforts further strengthen the
historic connection between Ford Motor Company and the Wright
brothers. "I think if Henry Ford were here today, he would
marvel at the ingenuity of the Wrights and how their dreams - his
and the Wrights' - truly did change the world," said Jan
Valentic, Ford Motor Company vice president, Global Marketing.
"Today the stories of these three incredible men should serve
as a lesson regarding the power of innovation. Through the past
100 years it has served as the foundation of Ford, as has our
fascination with aviation."
Ford laid the foundation for our
modern system of commercial aviation including the world's first
modern airport and concrete runway, popularization of all-metal
aircraft with the Ford Tri-Motor, development of radio navigation
and the company's assembly line manufacturing of aircraft during
World War II. For his pioneering efforts, Ford was enshrined in
the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1984 and recognized as an
aviation pioneer by the U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission in
2002. A full timeline of Ford's contributions to aviation is
available at http://media.ford.com
under the news section.
In 2004, the 1903 Wright Flyer reproduction will be donated to The
Henry Ford in Dearborn, Mich., for display, helping realize Henry
Ford's dream of displaying the Wrights' plane along with the
Wrights' childhood home and bicycle shop.
Ford Motor Company is the
presenting sponsor of the Experimental Aircraft Association's
(EAA) Countdown to Kitty Hawk, which features an interactive
touring pavilion and the exclusive re-enactment of the Wright
brothers' first flight at Kitty Hawk, N.C., on Dec. 17. For more
information, go to www.countdowntokittyhawk.org.