Valiant Effort of Flyer Fails

by Dr. Richard Stimson

in Kitty Hawk 2003 Celebration Events

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:

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.

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