NASA tests Wright stuff
Posted: March 3, 2003

It triggers the imagination. What would aviation pioneer Orville Wright think about a reproduction of his 1903 Wright Flyer being tested in a wind tunnel he used to visit?

An authentic, airworthy reproduction of the Wright brothers' first successful powered flying machine is undergoing aerodynamic testing at the Langley Full Scale Tunnel (LFST). The tunnel is owned by NASA's Langley Research Center (LaRC) in Hampton, Va., and operated by Old Dominion University (ODU) in Norfolk, Va. The LFST was built in 1930. It was NASA's first full-scale wind tunnel.

During this experiment, underwritten primarily by ODU, engineers will take to determine how the 1903 Wright Flyer replica can be safely flown and controlled. They'll use the information, not only to document the 40.5-foot-wingspan aircraft's flying characteristics, but also to create the first accurate flight-simulator to teach pilots how to fly the primitive aircraft.

"NASA Langley is proud to sponsor wind tunnel tests of this accurate, authentic reproduction of the Wright Flyer. The first man to fly, Orville Wright, was on the advisory committee that established NASA's Langley Research Center in 1917," said Ed Prior, deputy director of Langley's Office of Education. "Wright also visited Langley a number of times. 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," he said.

The wind tunnel tests are part of research being done by ODU and Ken Hyde of the Wright Experience of Warrenton, Va. The not-for-profit Discovery of Flight Foundation, also in Warrenton, to uncover and document how the Wright brothers managed to conquer the principles of controlled, powered flight in five short years, contracted the Wright Experience.

The Wright Flyer replica, built with help from the Ford Motor Co. and the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) in Oshkosh, Wis., will use two different motors during tests. One is a gasoline-powered reproduction of the primitive engine designed and built by the Wrights in 1903. The other is an electric motor donated by Teco Westinghouse Corporation 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," said Hyde. "Our journey will continue through December 17 this year with the flight of this 1903 Wright Flyer reproduction at Kitty Hawk. These wind tunnel tests will help us recreate the Wrights' historic accomplishment and reduce the risk involved in the replica flight later this year," he said.

"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, Wright test- program manager for ODU. "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."

The Wright Experience and ODU have already built and tested 1901 and 1902 Wright glider reproductions along with a suite of Wright propellers in their quest to "reverse engineer" the 1903 Wright Flyer and other early Wright aircraft.

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