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2003 Centennial

2003 FlightThe Flyer’s performance was measured before test flights using a dynamometer and full scale wind tunnel; and during the tests with flight data recorder. A simulator was developed from this data to help prepare the pilots for the test flights.

The Wright brothers recorded their experiments in detail. Their accurate recordings have provided the basis for judging the authenticity of the reproduction Flyer. The goal of the flight tests was not only to prove an authentic Flyer could fly, but to record and study its behavior in detail. The process has been extensive and has resulted in unprecedented data.

To train the Wright Experience pilots for the reenactment of the first flight on December 17, 2003, the Bihrle Applied Research D-Six simulator was programmed using tables generated from the LFST wind tunnel test. This simulator uses look-up tables of aerodynamic coefficients that are presented as a function of angle of attack to represent the aircraft aerodynamics. Variables such as thrust effects and landing gear compliance are modeled to give a realistic assessment of the aircraft’s handling behavior both on the rail and in-flight.

Bihrle Applied Research Inc. is an aerospace technology company located in Hampton, Virginia specializing in the testing and simulation of aircraft. Bihrle’s integration of industry wide experience, creativity, and technology has revolutionized the acquisition, reduction and application of test data in high fidelity simulations. Since 1973, Bihrle has supported the development of the latest military and civil aircraft configurations with these unique capabilities and has been recognized throughout the industry for their contributions. For more information about the application of BAR’s simulation of the Flyer and the technology used, please contact Jack Ralston at 757-766-2416 (jralsotn@bihrle.com), or visit www.bihrle.com

ViGYAN, Inc., in response to a suggestion by Aero-Space Consultants, is supporting the Wright Experience 1903 Wright Flyer reproduction project by providing an onboard flight data recorder, which provides test data during flights of the aircraft. The system was designed and fabricated at ViGYAN. It consists of an integrated PC-104 Single Board Computer, analog-to digital conversion board, signal filters, solid-state hard drive, onboard power supply, and enclosure. Software written in National Instruments LabVIEW provides the ability to acquire, monitor, and store the data for download after each flight. The system also provides the pilot real-time speed information during takeoff.

The system allows for up to 90 minutes of information including:

  • Angle of Attack
  • Angle of Sideslip
  • Pitot Pressure
  • Static Pressure
  • Pitch Control Stick Position
  • Wing Warp Position
  • Normal, Longitudinal and Lateral accelerations near cg
  • Normal, Longitudinal and Lateral accelerations at nose
  • Torque at Prop Shaft
  • RPM at Prop Shaft
  • Temperature

ViGYAN staff installed the data system and instruments on the Wright Flyer and is providing test support during the test flights. The data are used to understand the aerodynamic characteristics of the Wright Flyer and have been useful in understanding its flight motions during the checkout process.

Significant contributions of instrumentation hardware or services to the flight recorder effort were also made by the following organizations:

SpaceAge Control, Inc. — Air Data Boom
BiTMICRO Networks, Inc. — Solid State Hard Drive
Precision Filters, Inc. — Signal Conditioning Filters
Modern Machine and Tool, Inc. — Installation of propeller shaft torque strain gauges
Sensotec, Inc. — Propeller shaft torque measurement system
Wyle Labs, Inc. – Calibration of Pressure Sensors
SR Batteries, Inc. — Flight Data Recorder Batteries
Battery Outlet Inc. — Ground Support Battery Chargers

Orville and Wilbur Wrights’ historic first flights on December 17, 1903 were preceded with extensive preparation on their first controllable aircraft, the 1902 Glider. Their confidence and skill in handling the Flyer were the direct result of their hundreds of flights on the glider. In November and December, 2003, The Wright Experience made several test flights in the 1902 Glider and 1903 Flyer in preparation for the Centennial of Flight on December 17. The Wright Experience made four attempts at flight in the 1903 Flyer. Like the Wrights brothers’ flights, each was dependent on weather and on the performance of the machine.

Our attempt at flight on December 17, 2003 replicated almost exactly the Wright brothers’ first public attempt at flight, May 23, 1904. Lack of wind, engine trouble, and Wilbur got as far as the end of the rail…and went nowhere.

December 17, 2003 was an incredible day for the entire team, thanks to the amazing crowd at Kill Devil Hills. We had rain, which led to ignition trouble in the engine. There wasn’t enough wind. But we tried, and we almost got a flight on the SR22 aircraft. But we flew in another way, thanks to the incredible people who stuck with us the entire soggy day, and cheered us on. We cannot express our gratitude deeply enough. The Flyer’s performance that day actually replicated the Wrights’ first attempt at a public flight!

“The wind had dwindled down to a whisper. The crowd had been waiting all day to see the Flyer lift into the air. Not wanting to disappoint them, the crew stated the machine, and made an attempt at a flight. They Flyer rolled down the rail, but simply could not lift itself, and slid to a stop off the end of the track. The next attempt was thwarted by the rain.”

Although this sounds like December 2003, and the Centennial of the first flight, it actually is a description of the Wrights’ first attempt at a public flight May 23, 1904, at Huffman Prarie outside Dayton, Ohio. Wilbur was the pilot. He and Orville had invited reporters and spectators to come and see their new Flyer, and to make a demonstration flight. But the weather simply did not cooperate. The wind was too strong at first, so they waited until it calmed down. But it didn’t calm down. It died. There were rain clouds brewing. Wilbur decided to make a try anyway, and could not get off the ground.

The following day some of the reporters stayed around, but the tests were cancelled because of rain. Finally, on the 25th, between rain showers, Orville made a short hop in the machine. It wasn’t until four years later that Wilbur made his first public flight in Le Mans, France. Until then, he and Orville had to continually defend their claims that they had actually flown.

2003 CentennialThis remarkable image shows just how close we got to a successful recreation of the first flight. The Flyer has rotated, has lifted off the launching dolly, and is barely touching the rail with the back end of the tail boom. Even with diminishing and dwindling power from the number four cylinder, the Flyer still wanted to fly!

The CrowdThe Centennial celebration was sold out – all 35,000 tickets were gone. The weather could not have been worse: pouring rain, and a lack of steady wind over 10 knots. But the great people who came to cheer us on stayed with us, waiting all day in the miserable weather to see the re-enactment. It was inspiring and humbling at the same time for the entire Wright Experience team. The people who came were the real heroes of the day.

Ken-HydeOur goal was to recreate the first flight at exactly 10:35 a.m. on the 17th – a century after Orville’s first flight. But Mother Nature had other plans. Although we had practiced for six weeks, we had never had to deal with the rain. The ignition system started acting up during a test run, caused by the atmosphere. Worse still, there was simply not enough wind. We needed 10 knots, and we weren’t getting much more than 7 or 8.

Monitering the WeatherWe monitored the weather constantly on the 17th, hoping for a break. In addition to the digital station from Belfort instruments, we used hand-held anemometers, and a tripod-mounted station from Belfort on the field to check the conditions as they evolved. When we at last got a break between the showers, we decided to go for it, hoping the wind would increase to and hold at a minimum of 10 – 12 knots.

Kevin KochersbergerDr. Kevin Kochersberger waiting for a break in the weather. He prepared on the morning of the 17th by practicing on the simulator.

Rolling the Flyer onto the FieldWe rolled out the Flyer about 12:15 to make our attempt. In all of our rehearsals, we had never had to push through so much mud.

Water on the Launching RailOne of the unfortunate effects of the rain was accumulated water on the launching rail, which also affected the takeoff attempt. The spray from the water shorted out the ignition on the front cylinder – number four – and the engine began to misfire.

Rotating the FlyerAt 12:38 p.m., with about 8 knots of wind blowing, the Flyer rolled down the launching rail. We had laid out extra track so Kevin might get flying speed. As the Flyer rolled on, the engine began to misfire, the ignition system shorting out on the front cylinder by the water on the rail. But despite a lack of wind and lack of power, the Flyer still wanted to fly! It rotated and came almost completely off the rail before it stalled and settled back down. Even so, it was a thrilling moment for us all.

Amanda and KevinWe were very fortunate to have some wonderful guests with us on the field: Amanda Wright Lane and Steven Wright, great-grand niece and nephew of the Wright brothers; Erik Lindbergh, grandson of Charles Lindbergh, And Rich Milburn, our sponsor from Northrop Grumman.

Water LandingWe weren’t expecting a water landing! The Flyer was in great shape after the flight attempt, and we took it back to the hangar to prepare it for another try. But Mother Nature decided it was not to be our day. The wind dwindled to a 4-knot breeze, making any other attempts impossible. Although it was disappointing, we brought the machine out for one more run, and one more chance to be with the thousands of spectators who waited with us all day.

For more information and coverage:

Thank You for Your Dream

Discovering Wilbur & Orville

News Links

AOPA NEWS DEC 2016
Air & Space Magazine - Oct 2015
Professional Pilot Magazine - Sept 2015
1902 Wright Glider
Wright Aircraft Collection
1909 Wright Military Flyer

You too can fly our Wright Aircraft at Kitty Hawk,
North Carolina.
See articles below:


AOPA News – June 2012
Air & Space Magazine – July 2012



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Warrenton, VA 20188

Phone: 540-347-1909
Email: info@wrightexperience.com

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