The highlight of the Wright Brother’s Centennial celebration on December 17, 2003 at Kill Devil Hills, N.C., will be a recreation of the first flight of the 1903 Wright Flyer with an exact reproduction of the Flyer.
Ken Hyde Creating Reproduction of Wright Flyer
Ken Hyde, who is building the reproduction, was the featured speaker at the Wright Memorial in Kill Devil Hills on Aviation Day, August 19, 2001. Hyde is attempting to accomplish something that no one else has done. He is creating an exact reproduction of the 1903 machine that can be flown.
Creating an exact duplication is made extra difficult because the Wrights did not leave behind engineering drawings specifying their manufacturing methods or construction details. This reflects their extreme sensitivity to secrecy because they didn’t want others copying their design.
The task has required painstaking research on Hyde’s part to gather sufficient information to permit the reverse engineering of what the Wrights did.
One thing the Wrights did do is take plenty of photographs. Hyde and his people, working in Warrenton, Virginia, have worked backward from the photographs scanned into a computer and enlarged to enhance details to be reproduced.
Hyde commented that he is two months ahead of schedule. He is currently working on the engine and hardware.
He noted that one of his biggest challenges is obtaining the turn-of the-century muslin fabric used on the wings known as “Pride of the West.” The fabric is unavailable and must be manufactured especially for the project.
Once the machine is completed, it will be test-flown in a wind tunnel before it is actually flown. Piloting the machine will be difficult. Even the Wrights had trouble, flying four undulating flight paths that first day, and they had plenty of practice piloting their gliders.
The 1903 Flyer was meant as an experimental machine to test the feasibility of flight and was extremely unstable. Orville and Wilbur were in essence test pilots. Flying it meant lying prone in a cradle that one moved with the hips to “warp” the wings for horizontal control, while at the same time moving a lever with the left hand that controlled the front elevator for pitch control.
Several experienced pilots in California recently crashed the machine while attempting to perform this feat in a simulator of the Flyer.
Hyde plans to conducts test flights at Kill Devil Hills prior to December 17, 2003.
The Flyer will also be exhibited in several cities, including Dayton, prior to December 17, 2003. It will not fly on the tour, however.
Hyde is driven by his vision to rediscover the early history of Aeronautical Engineering. He expressed concern to his audience, attending his presentation on Aviation day, that there is a critical need to capture the knowledge of all those who knew the Wright Brothers before they are gone.
The Wisconsin-based Experimental Aircraft Association is sponsoring Hyde’s work on the 1903 Flyer.
Rex Peters, President of the First Flight Society, introduced Hyde. Another VIP who was present was Dr. Kathryn Holten, Executive Director of the First Flight Centennial Commission. Dr. Holten is responsible for planning the centennial activities in North Carolina.
My wife and I were also present serving as VIP National Park Service Volunteers for the day. My wife served in the visitor center and I presented two programs during the day as well as other duties.