Orville’s Birthday

by Dr. Richard Stimson

in Kitty Hawk 2003 Celebration Events

Orville’s birthday was celebrated at the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills on August 29th. I was one of the celebrants.

The all day program featured a number of exhibits and speakers. The two that I found most interesting was Tom Crouch, senior curator, Smithsonian National air and Space Museum, and Ken Hyde, president of the Wright Experience.

Crouch is the author of the “Bishop’s Boys” and co-author of a new book, “The Wright Brothers and the Invention of the Aerial Age.”

His presentation summarized the critical events leading to the invention of the airplane by the Wright Brothers. His remarks were illustrated with slides of original photography taken by the Wrights.

Unfortunately, the effectiveness of the slides was diminished by the inability of the park service to find a way to turn out the lights over the screen. I could barely make out the pictures sitting in the front row. I doubt the people in the back of the room could see them at all.

Also, there was one other event in the same room that generated talking noise during the question and answer period that made it difficult for people to hear. This caused the people in the rear to begin to leave thereby generating more noise. The event took place in the recently constructed temporary pavilion.

Ken Hyde gave a status report on preparations for the planned flight of his reproduction Wright Flyer on December 17th. Four pilots, including Hyde, are now undergoing flight training for the big event. They are learning to fly just as the Wright Brothers did by using gliders. (Picture left to right: Stimson, Ken Hyde, Joe Hardman -park volunteer)

It will be a tough challenge. Wind tunnel tests at Langley confirm that the machine is highly unstable in pitch and has marginal lateral stability.

Hyde’s organization, Wright Experience, has conducted extensive research to assure historical accuracy in the building of their reproduction of the original Wright Flyer. The effort is detailed in a Discovery Channel documentary tentatively scheduled for showing next month.

One of Hyde’s biggest challenges was obtaining the turn-of-the-century muslin fabric used on the wings. It was known as “Pride of the West.” The fabric is no longer available and had to be especially made for the project. They found some textile companies in North and South Carolina who could manufacture the thread and weave the cloth.

Hyde introduced one his associates, Paul Glenshaw, who had searched for old movies of the Wright’s machine in flight. He showed several clips of these including one from a Max Sennett movie.

What I found amazing from viewing these old movies was the great control wing warping gave the Wright machines in flight.

One of the unscheduled highlights of the day was the appearance of Orville. It actually was John Hogan, an intermediate school student from Holy Cross School in Montgomery County, Maryland. He was dressed like Orville, including the moustache.

His parents brought him to the park because he is doing a project for the school on the Wright Brothers and he wanted to be where it “all started.”

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