Wright Airplane Configurations

by Dr. Richard Stimson

in Inventing The Airplane

A few days after the first successful powered, sustained, controlled flight of the Wright Flyer at Kitty Hawk in 1903, it was disassembled and returned to Dayton, Ohio. Orville and Wilbur were pleased with its performance but knew that there was much work yet to be done to produce a practical flying machine. One of their important tasks would be to improve the stability of the machine.

1904 Machine, Wright Flyer II

The dimensions of the 1904 machine were similar to the 1903 machine but a large number of design changes were made. These included a new engine, changing the structure to move the center of gravity towards the rear, decreasing the camber of the wings, changing the shape of the vertical rudder and using new and larger propellers.

Due to the difficulty of taking off in the low winds in Dayton, they started using a derrick with weights that could be dropped to catapult the machine.

The performance of the machine was an improvement over the 1903 Flyer, but it was still not the performance the Wrights were seeking. It had a tendency to stall in tight turns. This problem was not solved until 1905.

1905 Machine, Wright Flyer III

Changes made to the 1905 machine included enlarging the rudder surfaces, moving the vertical tail further to the rear, using newly designed propellers (bent end), decreasing the camber back to the camber used on the 1903 Flyer and eliminating the wing droop. They also took the important step of unlinking the warp and rudder controls and providing for the separate, or combined, operation in any desired degree.

On October 5th Wilbur took-off from Huffman Prairie and flew for more than 24 miles in just over 39 minutes while completing more than 29 circles of the field at an average speed of 38-mph.

The Wrights were satisfied that they had produced a practical airplane. Others, including the U.S. War Department and foreign governments, were not convinced. Fearing loss of their secrets, they decided not to fly again until they had buyer. The result was that they did not fly in 1906 or 1907.

It was not until February 8, 1908, that the Signal Corps of the U.S. War Department concluded a contract with the Wrights for an airplane. Almost simultaneously, they signed a contract with a Frenchman to form a syndicate for the rights to manufacture, sell or license the use of the Wright airplane in France.

1907 Type Machines

Wilbur and Orville revamped their 1905 machine, to permit the pilot to sit upright instead of lying prone, and to carry at least one passenger. The control system was redesigned to accommodate the new seating position.

The 1907 type machines were built and flown between 1907 and 1909. They were sometimes referred to as Wright Model A although the Wrights never used that designation. The various types were of similar configuration but varied in dimension.

In May 1908 the Wrights took a machine to Kitty Hawk to prepare for the demonstrations they would make in France and at Ft. Myer.

Wright airplanes of the 1907 type include: the machine shipped to Europe in 1907 and flown by Wilbur in France from 1908 to March 1909; the airplane that Orville flew in the first Army tests at Fort Myer and wrecked on September 17, 1908; the airplane assembled at Pau and shipped to Rome for flights by Wilbur in April 1909; one of two machines assembled in Berlin in 1909 and flown by Orville in March and April; the machine used by Wilbur in his flights of September-October 1909 during the Hudson-Fulton Celebration in New York City and the machine flown by Orville at Montgomery Alabama in 1910.

1909, Signal Corps Machine

This airplane was Signal Corps No. 1 and sometimes referred to as the Military Flyer. Some of the differences between this modified machine and the standard 1907-type machine used the previous year were that the wing area was reduced and the propellers were closer together. The reduction in the area of the wing resulted in the need for a higher take-off speed and longer start, necessitating adding 30 feet to the starting rail.

This machine gained fame as the world’s oldest military airplane.

In August 1909, Orville made many demonstration flights during the next two months at Templehof and Potsdam with a standard Model A.

Model B, 1910-1911

The Model B was produced in 1910 and 1911. The first machine was completed on June 29, 1910. It is their first production machine and was flown by Orville for the first time over Huffman Prairie in July of 1909. Some 80-100 were believed to have been built.

The most fundamental change from the Model A was the transfer of the elevator from the front to the rear structure that held the rudder. Two fixed flaps of cloth were added to what remained of the forward structure to provide stability in turns. For the first time also, wheels were added to the undercarriage. It is the Wrights first machine to use a rear stabilizer that is now considered a traditional tail.

Signal Corps Airplanes No. 3 and No. 4, built in 1911, were Wright B Flyers and they were used for training pilots and in aerial experiments.

In 1912 the Navy fit a Model B Flyer, referred to as the B1 Flyer, with pontoons for testing as a seaplane in San Diego Bay, California.

Model R, 1910

The Model R was designed as a high-speed racer for setting speed and altitude records and was equipped with a wheeled undercarriage. It was called the “Roadster” and more popularly, the “Baby Wright.” A smaller version, the “Baby Grand, ” powered by an 8-cylinder, 60-hp engine was flown by Orville at the Belmont Park Meet in 1910. It could reach speeds up to 80-mph.

Model, EX 1911

The EX was a smaller version of the Model B. It was built mainly for flying at exhibitions. It could climb fast and reach nearly 60-mph.

A modified EX, the Vin Fiz flown by Galbraith Perry Rodgers, made the first transcontinental flight in 1911.

On May 13, 1918 Orville made his last flight as a pilot, flying a 1911 Wright airplane

Model C, 1912

The Model C was the successor to the Model B. It became the new standard production airplane for the Wright Company. The model B and the Model C airplanes were the only airplanes built by the Wright Company in quantity. The first Model C airplanes were delivered to the Army in 1912.

It employed a more powerful engine to meet Army specifications and a new control system. The specifications required the machine to climb at a rate of 200-feet per second, have a fuel supply sufficient for a four hour flight and carry a weight of 450 pounds including the pilot and passenger.

The Army originally purchased six Wright Model Cs and five of these airplanes crashed killing six men. The machine was unstable and used a twin-lever control system that was confusing to operate for inexperienced pilots.

The Model C replaced the prominent triangular blinkers of the Model B with vertical vanes attached to the forward end of the skids.

Models K and L subsequently replaced the Model C.

Unfortunately, by 1910 the Wright airplanes were beginning to fall behind the competition. The Model C was such a machine.

Between 1910 and 1915 the Wrights produced 10 different distinct aircraft designs.

What follows is a short description of some more of these designs.

Model CH, 1913

This was the first Wright seaplane. It was essentially a Model C with pontoons added. Experiments were conducted on the Miami River near Dayton, Ohio in the spring and early summer of 1913.

Model D, 1912

The Model D was designed as a light fast scout biplane for the Army. It was similar to the Model R. Its speed was about 70-mph. It had a problem in landing on rough ground, which was an Army requirement. A high landing speed caused Model D to nose over in a ploughed field.

Model E, 1913

This model used a single 7-foot pusher propeller and was designed for exhibition use. It could be dismantled and reassembled quickly. It also had two wheels instead of the usual four that had been used on all Wright airplanes built during the period of 1910-1913.

Model F, 1913

The Model F was built for the U.S. Army. It was the first Wright machine built with a fuselage. It was also the first to use the tractor propellers instead of the pusher type.

Model G, 1913-1914

This was the first deep-water flying boat. Grover Loening under supervision of Orville designed it. It was given the name, “Aeroboat.”

The hull was made of ash and spruce, covered with a special alloy treated to prevent salt-water corrosion.

Model H, 1914

The Model H looked in appearance like the Model F except that the fuselage was continuous. The fuselage was made of wood, veneered with canvas inside and out.

Model HS, 1915

This was a smaller version of Model H. It was the last Wright machine to have an double vertical rudder and the last to user pusher-type propellers.

Models I and J

These were not Wright machines. The Burgess-Wright Company built them. Glen Curtiss was involved with this company.

Orville Wright considered these machines to be infringements of the Wright patents.

Model K, 1915

The Model K was a seaplane built for the U.S. Navy. It was the first tractor plane produced by the Wright Company and the last to use the Wright “bent end” propellers that were first used in 1905.

It was also the first Wright machine to utilize modern-type ailerons on both the upper and lower wings instead of using wingwarping. Wingwarping had been used on all Wright machine and gliders since 1899.

Model L, 1916

This airplane was offered for sale after Orville had sold the Wright Company.

It was a single-place light-scout biplane designed for high-speed reconnaissance. It bore no resemblance to the early Wright biplanes.

Reference: “The Papers of Wilbur and Orville Wright,” by Marvin W. McFarland, Editor.

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