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1902 Wright Glider Tests Help Prepare for 1903 Wright Flyer

June 7, 2002 - A significant step takes place this week for the 1903 Wright Flyer reproduction being built for EAA’s Countdown to Kitty Hawk, presented by Ford Motor Company. Wind tunnel tests were conducted on a 1902 Wright glider at Old Dominion University’s (ODU) Langley Full Scale Tunnel in Hampton, Virginia. “This will be the first time any one has put a Wright 1902 glider in a wind tunnel to test performance on the airfoil and the full wing,” said The Wright Experience’s Ken Hyde, builder of the reproduction. “The results of these tests will provide for us the information that will allow us to build a real-time simulator, which will assist the four pilots in their training preparation to fly the 1903 Flyer.

The Wright Experience has been contracted by EAA to re-create the ’03 Flyer, which will be the centerpiece of a touring exhibit next year before making the only authorized flight at Kitty Hawk on December 17, 2003, 100 years to the moment after Orville and Wilbur Wrights’ first powered flight.

“When we have the opportunity to bring our work here to the NASA Langley Full Scale Tunnel operated by ODU, we find out so much about the efficiency and performance of the Wrights’ work,” Hyde continued. “What we continue to find out is that these two brothers were extraordinary engineers.”

The wind tunnel tests, underwritten by the NASA Langley Research Center, are part of ODU and The Wright Experience’s ongoing research. Several Wright propellers’ reproductions have been built in their quest to “reverse engineer” the 1903 Wright Flyer and other early Wright aircraft.

 “The 1902 glider represents the culmination of three years of experimentation and analysis to define aircraft control,” said Rochester Institute of Technology’s Dr. Kevin Kochersberger. “Sailplane pilots recognize the November 1902 glides as the centennial of controlled, motorless flight that up to then were sled rides down a hill. The Wrights were able to turn their 1902 glider in a predictable manner that agreed with theory.”

Wright test program manager for ODU, Professor Robert Ash, noted that since the Wrights never tested this airfoil design, these will be the first wind tunnel tests for this particular airfoil. “We know that the 1902 glider was their first flying machine that behaved according to their theories,” Ash said. “The information we will gather from these tests will tell us what convinced them to attempt controlled, powered flight the following year.” The Wrights made nearly 1,200 test glides between September 19 and October 24, 1902, increasing their record for distance to 622 ½ feet, for time to 26 seconds, and for angle of descent to 5 degrees for a glide of 156 feet.

The Wrights conducted nearly 100 glides in September 1903, just prior to their historic powered flights on December 17.

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