Wright Brothers – Kitty Hawk 2003 Celebration Events

Articles relating to Kitty Hawk’s celebration activities & events.

There is a wonderful new sculpture at the Wright Brothers National Memorial Park in Kill Devil Hills. It is a life-size sculpture that depicts the Wright Flyer just as it is lifting into the air on its first successful attempt. Orville is lying on the lower wing controlling the plane. Wilbur is running with his arm outstretched as the plane moves beyond his reach. John Daniels is some 84 feet back just squeezing the bulb that activates the shutter of the camera on a tripod.

The men are made of bronze and the Flyer is made of stainless steel. The entire sculpture is made in realistic detail. The camera looks as if it could actually take a picture and the engine on the flyer looks like it could actually run.

The sculptor is Stephen Smith (left in picture) from Marshville, N.C. The 10,000-pound Flyer is located just below the Wright Monument on the south side and was installed just in time for the centennial celebration

One of the great things about the sculpture is that it is interactive. Kids can climb on the flyer and examine it in detail. You can look the figures in the eye as if they were alive.

The $250,000 sculpture was paid for by the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources, using public arts programming funding. The four remaining witnesses to the first flight will be added one at a time each year. Adam Etheridge, one of the members of the life saving crew, is scheduled to be the next addition.

As the person responsible for the reproduction engine that powered the reproduction 1903 flyer that flew at the Wright Brothers National Memorial during the Centennial Celebration, Greg Cone of the Wright Experience pampered the engine.

Greg didn’t build the engine. Jim and Steve Hay, the owners and operators of the Hay Manufacturing Co. in Minnesota did that. Their company’s primary business is making trumpet parts, steel stampings and tool work.

They also build antique engines. They built their first 1903 Wright engine in 1976. This engine was first run at the EAA convention in 1977 and has been run during every EAA Convention since then.

The Wright Experience had Hays build three engines for the reproduction 1903 Flyers.

Greg said that when the engines arrived at The Wright Experience he disassembled them for inspection and carefully put them back together. He said that if he was the one responsible for them, he had to make sure they met with his satisfaction.

At the Wright Memorial I watched Greg and the others start the engine in the Flyer several times. Greg would bend over the engine carefully adjusting it while two assistants spun the propellers to start the engine. It usually took a number of tries before the engine would start. It would cough a few times before kicking-in.

Sometimes it wouldn’t start at all. Such was the case after the successful flight of Nov. 20. They tried a number of times to get it started but they had to gave up for the day.

On another occasion the engine started but ran roughly because all four cylinders were not firing properly. The usual problem was that the points and/or combustion chambers became contaminated from the 50-octane gas, which was the same octane gas that the Wrights used. When this occurred the points and the inside of the combustion chambers had to be thoroughly cleaned.

Perhaps the best performance given by the engine was on the flight of Dec. 3rd. As the Flyer began to lift off the launching rail, it was hit by a crosswind and began to roll to the right. The right wing plowed sand while Kevin Kochersberger struggled to make a correction. This placed an extra heavy load on the engine. The engine groaned but kept going and Kevin was able to fly 115 feet.

I asked Greg if he primed the engine before starting it. He said that was a judgment call. Sometimes he did, but he had to be careful because there was a danger of fire if it was primed too much.

The engine was relatively simple. Fuel flows by gravity from a can into a reservoir in the top of the crankcase, where it vaporizes and mixes with the air flowing into the cylinders. Instead of spark plugs, it has igniters that close like switches when a cam turns, then spark as they separate.

Some people think that the Wrights heated the cold engine before starting it. I can find no evidence that this was the case. There is no carburetor. The fuel is fed into a shallow chamber in the manifold situated next to the cylinders where it heats up, quickly vaporizing the air-gas mixture.

The cooling system for the engine consists of gravity feed from the radiator that is marginally effective. The Wrights sometimes ran the engine “red-hot.”

A dry battery that is not a part of the plane is used to start the engine. Once started, a magneto on the plane takes over and provides continuous electricity at 10-volts.

The original engine was designed by the Wrights to produce 8-hp, but did better than expected and was able to produce 12-hp.

Greg said they were able to produce 18-hp on the dynamometer with the reproduction engine, and on a test flight, they produced 20-hp @ 1100-rpm. (The Wrights liked to run the engine at 1150-rpm on their 1903 machine.) Greg said the engine got stronger with each run. Their longest run was 9 minutes.

Here are some pictures:

The first picture is of Greg with the engine in the background.

The second picture is of Greg starting the engine.

The third picture is of the remains of the original 1903 engine block showing the 3 cylinders that remain. The engine broke when a sudden guest of wind at Kitty Hawk overturned the stationary airplane. The missing cylinder, however, was not caused at Kitty Hawk, but was deliberately broken off sometime later and used for casting new parts.

The buckeye Iron and Brass Works in Dayton provided the 1903 aluminum casting made from Alcoa aluminum. An aluminum casting was innovative for that time because aluminum was not yet used for gas engines.

The fourth picture is an outline drawing of the 1903 engine that appears in Charles E. Taylor by H.R. DuFour. The Wrights did not make any engineering drawings of the engine. They provided sketches to Charlie Taylor, their mechanic, who then made the engine from them. He had an operating engine on Feb 12, 1903 in only 6 weeks.

Unfortunately, the next day the engine body and frame were broken when the bearings seized due to inadequate lubrication. A new aluminum casting was received at the Wrights’ shop in May and the rebuilt engine was tested in May.

This was not the first gas engine designed and built by the Wrights. They had earlier built a one- cylinder engine to power the machine tools in their bicycle shop. It used the natural gas used in the gaslights.

The fifth picture is a picture of a restored 1903 engine.

The Flyer made a valiant effort to fly on the 100th birthday of its first success but the weather wouldn’t cooperate.

At approximately 12:10 p.m. the Flyer started down the launching rail with pilot Kevin Kochersberger, at the controls. It was looking good as the machine gathered speed and Kevin kept the wings level. But it wasn’t to be. The wind faded and the engine began to lose power because of the dampness. Kevin worked the elevator and the nose pitched up, but the tail of the machine remained on the rail and the machine settled into a puddle formed in a depression in the sand.

Kevin dropped his head for a moment as if to say, “so close — nuts!”

They hoped to make another attempt later in the day. The engine was started at 3:35 p.m. but the wind was still too light.

After a frustrating 9 hours of intermittent downpours and light winds, the folks at the Wright Experience called it a day.

Note: Ken Hyde later confirmed that water on the launching rail was a major reason that the Flyer was unable to make a successful launch. They had waxed the rail and that caused the rainwater to form bubbles. When the Flyer hit the water bubbles, it caused the water to spray over the engine. The spray landed on the ignition causing the engine to start missing at the critical point of take-off.

The crowd of over 35,000 spectators made their way to the exits, disappointed at the weather, but happy to have been a part of the day’s events. They had experienced the real Wright experience that the brothers had often endured in their pursuit of the first flight.

In 1903, the Wrights spent 3 months at Kitty Hawk enduring frustrating mechanical and weather delays before they experienced success. The last few days before their successful flight serve as an example.

Saturday Dec. 12, 1903, Orville and Wilbur were finally ready to fly after they had installed new propeller shafts that had cracked, but there was not enough wind to fly. They decided to test the machine on the launching rails and in the process broke the point of the tail rudder that had caught on the end of the launching rail. They had to go back to the hanger again for repairs.

Sunday Dec. 13, 1903, the brothers didn’t fly because it was Sunday. They could have made the attempt because the weather was good, but they had promised their father not to work on Sunday. Instead, they walked on the beach, did some personal business and read books.

Monday Dec. 14, 1903, the wind had died again, but they were anxious to see if the Flyer would fly. They decided to place the Flyer on the down slope of Big Kill Devil Hill to give the machine a faster takeoff speed to make up for the lack of wind. The brothers knew that this would not count as true flight because they would be starting from a point higher than the landing, but it would be a good test of the plane and their ability to fly it.

As it turned out, the downhill start produced a launching speed that was too fast. Wilbur pitched up at a steep angle, stalled and landed hard, breaking the front elevator.

Wright Experience pilot, Terry Queijo, experienced a similar phenomenon on Nov. 25, 2003, when the Flyer was going faster than she expected on takeoff, and it stalled and crashed. The canard configuration is susceptible to pitch-up at high takeoff speed.

Monday Dec. 15, 1903, the day was spent making repairs.

Wednesday Dec. 16, 1903, they were ready to fly, but the wind was insufficient.

Thursday Dec. 17, 1903, success at last! They demonstrated the power of persistence.

The 2003 reproduction Flyer did have successful flights on Nov. 20 and Dec. 3. with Kevin at the controls. You can view video clips of these flights on the Wright Experience web site: www.wrightexperience.com.

The flight on Nov. 20 marked the first time in 100 years that a Wright Flyer was successfully flown and landed without damage using an authentic engine.

The reproduction Flyer is the result of 10 years of research and 3 1/2 years of construction. Fourteen volunteers worked on the project, seven of them fulltime.

There is no doubt that the weather was miserable on this day. The periodic deluges were punctuated by drizzle. The wet sands created small lakes and muck in some of the high traffic areas. My rain suit did a good job of keeping me dry except for one problem – the rain ran down my rainsuit into my shoes.

Even the President had to stand in the rain without protection for nearly 15 minutes while giving his speech.

I had a great time!

Here are some pictures of the attempted takeoff:

Below are the successful flights of Nov. 20 (97 feet in 5 seconds) and Dec. 3, 2003 (115 feet in 12 seconds).

Kevin did a masterful job of controlling the machine on this flight. As it took off, it veered to the right causing the right wing to plow into the sand ripping the wing fabric and cracking some ribs. Nevertheless he was able to level the plane and continue flying.

Cheers for great events, speakers, exhibits and flyovers. Grade: A

Cheers to the Department of Transportation for the extraordinary shuttle system and traffic control. We never waited more than 5 minutes for a bus at either end. The drivers and staff at the arrival point were courteous and helpful. The point of departure for buses with different destinations was clearly marked and waiting lines clearly designated. Grade: A+

Jeers for Mother Nature for not providing sufficient wind on Dec. 17. Grade: F

Cheers for Wright Experience crew for valiant attempt to fly on Dec. 17. Grade: A+

Jeers for Reuters news headline on Dec. 17 that read, “Wright brothers reenactment flops in the mud.” Grade: F

Cheers for the courteous, self controlled crowd. Grade: A plus

Jeers for building an expensive outdoor stage that couldn’t keep the rain off President Bush during his speech. Grade: F

Jeers for spectator paths that became lakes with angle deep muck during the rain. Grade: F

Jeers for placing guest speakers in the corner of the EAA Building, exposing them to the loud crowd noise within the building. Also, no one was assigned to introduce the speakers. Quality of speakers: Grade: A+, Noise pollution: Grade: D

Cheers for the volunteers who maintained a cheerful manner throughout the centennial. Grade: A

Jeers for the undefined waiting lines in the food tents that were overwhelmed by the crowd. We brought our own food after one experience. Grade: D

Jeers for holding panel sessions within the Wright Brothers Visitor Center that has inadequate space and sound system. Many people could not see nor hear the proceedings. Grade: D

Cheers for the estimated $15 million of visitor expenditures and estimated $10 million in infrastructure improvements. Grade: A

Jeers for attendance less than expected. Organizers had expected 35,000 per day to attend the centennial. There was only one day that estimated attendance exceeded 30,000 and that was on Dec. 17th. The worse day was Dec. 12th when estimated attendance was only 5,000. Grade: C

Cheers for the positive impact on local businesses. Many were able to recoup losses resulting from Hurricane Isabel. However, not all businesses shared in the increased income. Final economic impact still to be determined. Grade: B

I witnessed the crash of the reproduction 1903 Flyer on Tuesday Nov. 25th at the Wright Memorial Park in Kill Devil Hills. It was trying to make a training flight at the time.

It appeared to be making a good start. The engine started after a few attempts, it was a windy day helping to produce lift and the Flyer started down the single rail in good fashion.

As the Flyer attempted to rise from the starting rail, disaster struck. The front end rose too fast and too steep. It stalled and just as suddenly slammed into the soft sand. The whole sequence took only a second or two.

Fellow pilots Kevin Kochersberger, who had flown successfully the Tuesday before, and Chris Johnson ran from each side to check on pilot Terry Queijo. She was shaken and had a mouth full of sand but thankfully otherwise emerged unhurt.

The same could not be said for the Flyer. The wooden frame was broken in several places and the muslin wing covering was torn in spots. The wooden wing leading edge spar were broken, making the wing curve in unusual places. Several pieces of broken wood were collected from the ground by the staff.

The engine appeared to remain in place and was not damaged seriously.

The crash was far from discouraging. They are experiencing the events as the Wrights experienced them. Wilbur had experienced a similar incident on Dec. 14, 1903, three days before the famous first flight

As Orville tells the story: “After a 35 to 40-foot run, it lifted from the rail. But it was allowed to turn up too much. It climbed a few feet, stalled, and then settled to the ground near the foot of the hill, 105 feet below. My stopwatch showed that it had been in the air just 3 1/2 seconds. In landing, the left wing touched first. The machine swung around, dug skids into the sand and broke one of them. Several other parts were also broken, but the damage was not serious.”

Far from being discouraged, Orville said “on the whole, we were much pleased.”

The Wrights had the damage repaired in two days. It will take more than two days to repair the new version of the Flyer.

The crew of the Wright Experience have concluded that the cause of the crash was that the Flyer had was going too fast to take-off with control. Their conclusion is based on flight recorder readings of the machine’s pitch, roll, yaw and engine torque.

This is an interesting result. I had presumed that the major problem on take-off would be not enough speed. Apparently, the known pitch instability of the Flyer as well as the other control inputs create problems for the pilot at higher take-off speeds.

The bigger problem facing the Wright Experience is time. Dec. 17 is not far away and they would like to have both pilots gain experience by flying four times before the big event. Good flying weather is one thing they can’t control and there is the possibility of further crashes that would take time for repairs. How many more practice flights to attempt is in the hands of 82-year old Scott Crossfield (first man to fly Mach 2) who volunteers to instruct the pilots.

Hyde said the they have a spare of everything, including the engine in case of further mishaps.

(Good news follow-up) The Flyer after repairs was back in the air on Wednesday Dec. 4th. This 3rd flight lasted 12 seconds and went 115 feet. The pilot was Kevin Kochersberger, who successfully flew the first flight of the series on Nov. 20th.

Here are the autographs of the flight crew:

Kevin Kochersberger

Terry Queijo

Scott Crossfield

Here are some pictures taken of the crash on Nov. 25th:

First picture shows the flyer in readiness to start down the rail.

Second picture shows the flyer after it hit the ground.

Third Picture shows the pilot, Terry Queijo, at her right is Scott Crossfield, and to his right is Kevin Kochersberger.

The remaining pictures are views of the Flyer.