FAA Certifies 1903 Wright Flyer as Airworthy, But Will It Fly?

by Dr. Richard Stimson

in Kitty Hawk 2003 Celebration Events

The FAA has issued a “Special Airworthiness Certificate for the reproduction 1903 Flyer that will attempt to reenact the Wright Brothers first flight at the Wright Memorial National Park on December 17, 2003. A FAA aviation inspector has reviewed the Flyer and determined that it is prepared to fly.

The certification doesn’t say that it will fly. It certifies that after visiting the Ken Hyde’s shop and watching it being built that the machine has met structural and safety specifications. The FAA says they are interested in two things: the safety of the pilot and the people on the ground.

Ken Hyde is the president of the Wright Experience, the organization that built the Flyer for the EAA. The Wright Experience over the past decade has kept strict adherence to preserving the legacy and design of the Wrights making it the worlds most accurate 1903 Wright Flyer reproduction.

The only concession to a better product was a modern glue to cement the pieces of the propeller together.

The Airworthiness Certificate issued under FAA Order 8130.31 of April 30, 1903 requires 21 limitations that EAA and its pilots must adhere to when operating the Flyer. These criteria include the following.

The Airworthiness Certificate including the 21 limitations must be visible to the pilot and located on the aircraft during flight. I don’t know where they will attach it on the Flyer. Perhaps it will be pasted on the front elevator.

The Flyer may only operate within the designated areas. Wilbur would have gone much further than the 842 feet he did fly on his fourth flight if he hadn’t experienced a downdraft and hit the sand. Until then he thought he might make it to the village of Kitty Hawk four miles away. This year any possibility of that happening has been ruled out.

The aircraft may not be operated over densely populated areas or in congested airways. They will have to stay within park boundaries and fly a straight flight path.

No person may operate this aircraft for carrying persons or property for compensation or hire. There is no room for passengers. No mementos are allowed for later sale on ebay.

Aerobatic maneuvers are not allowed. I don’t think anyone would want to try aerobatic maneuvers on purpose, but there may be some that take place unintentionally. Wilbur, on December 14th, flew up in a sharp angle, stalled, and came down quickly to earth. The four flights on the 17th were all of the undulating type—making for a wild ride.

The bigger problem is whether the Flyer will fly at all on December 17th. Unless flight conditions are almost perfect, it won’t fly. Wilbur said they needed at least 15 mph to fly their gliders. The headwind in 1903 was 27 mph along with cold weather.

Another problem that didn’t exist in 1903 is crosswinds. Trees and buildings now are in the path of the wind blowing from the northeast causing crosswinds. This can make controlling the Flyer more difficult than when the Wrights flew.

Fred Culick, professor of aerodynamics at the California Institute of Technology says that three weeks of wind-tunnel tests of their Wright Flyer replica “clearly showed how unstable it was and how it can’t be flown safely.”

In the meantime, Terry Queijo and Kelvin Kochersberger are busy learning how to fly Hyde’s Flyer under the tutorage of veteran test pilot Scott Crossfield.

Thousands, my self included, will be at the Wright Memorial on the 17th keeping our fingers crossed hoping that the Flyer does gets off the ground.

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