Reproduction 1903 Flyer Crashes

by Dr. Richard Stimson

in Kitty Hawk 2003 Celebration Events

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.

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