Getting The Wright Exposure

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Grass-roots Efforts Shine In The Background

With sponsors like Ford, Microsoft, Northrop Grumman and Eclipse and a huge organization like EAA running the show, it's no wonder the Countdown To Kitty Hawk celebration of 100 years of powered, sustained flight gets most of the attention. And yes, it will be EAA's replica of the 1903 Flyer (built by The Wright Experience) that will duplicate the feat on Dec. 17. But away from the bright lights and fanfare, there are other groups diligently pursuing their own interpretation of that momentous event. Last March 15, the FAA presented the Wright Redux Association with an Airworthiness Certificate for their replica of the 1903 Wright Flyer. The plane, called the Spirit of Glen Ellyn, flew last April and the group is claiming bragging rights that its Flyer was the first to be certified, even though it lacks the deep pockets of EAA's effort. "We don't benefit from a large budget or huge sponsorships," Mike Perry, the group's treasurer, told AVweb. "In fact, if it wasn't for Packer Engineering supplying us with the engine, we'd be far behind schedule, if not grounded." Perry also takes exception to other organizations claiming their aircraft are the only authentic reproductions, as the Spirit of Glen Ellyn includes an exact copy of the Wrights' 11-horsepower engine, a muslin wing fabric and an airframe built entirely of authentic Sitka spruce and ash. The Redux Flyer -- built by weekend volunteers working on a very tight budget -- is scheduled to fly publicly on the front lawn of the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry Sept. 20 and Sept. 21 as the featured highlight of the City of Chicago's Centennial of Flight observance this fall.

...AIAA Builds Two Replicas...

The Los Angeles Section of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) has also taken on the challenges of building its own set of two 1903 Flyer replicas. In 1999, the first aircraft built was used for extensive testing in the wind tunnel in the NASA Ames Research Center at Moffet Field, in California. The aircraft underwent unprecedented static load testing, which the group claims no other replica has undergone to date. Fred E.C. Culick, chief engineer and pilot #1 for the AIAA project, told AVweb the group started working on its aircraft in 1978, "well before the EAA even thought of building theirs." AIAA members worked on the replicas in their spare time and without corporate sponsorship and Culick said that was the whole idea. "Our goal is to have fun while celebrating the Wright Brothers' achievements. It's that simple," he said. There's also been some serious science involved in the project. The Wright replica was used as a test bed in a program in which the controls of a special "variable stability" Learjet were set to duplicate the feel and flight characteristics of the Wright Flyer. Military test pilots flew this bizarre combination as part of their training program and the AIAA got feedback from the pilots on how to make the replica safer to fly. The flyable model is getting some new covering and is scheduled to fly sometime in October or November at Edwards Air Force Base, in California.

...And Vin Fiz Flies Again

At this summer's Muskegon Air Fair, Dana Smith flew a replica of the Wright Brothers' Model EX that made a coast-to-coast flight in 1911. The 68-year-old retired pilot and airplane mechanic was dressed in the era's pilot apparel, as he flew the replica before the crowd of onlookers. He also brought along a replica of the Wrights' Model A for static display. The Model EX replica is patterned after the Vin Fiz, which flew from Sheepshead Bay, N.Y., to Long Beach, Calif., in 49 days during the fall of 1911. Smith's version of the Vin Fiz weighs 400 pounds less than the original and has a redesigned rudder. As designed by the Wrights, Smith said the Vin Fiz wouldn't have been stable enough to fly near air show crowds. Because his Model A needs a catapult to get airborne, it was not flown at the Air Fair, held from July 4-7. The original 1911 cross-country flight -- with numerous stops along the way -- was largely a publicity stunt by the makers of the grape-flavored drink after which the plane was named.