Hawk Moments: The Whopper Flying Machine
When the Wrights returned to Dayton
in the fall of 1902, they immediately set to work on designing an
entirely new flying machine. They called it their
"Flyer" to distinguish it from their previous gliders,
for it was indeed much more. This machine, they knew, needed a
much stronger and more rigid structure to carry the weight and
withstand the vibrations of propellers and its power plant.
The "Flyer" first took
shape in a preliminary sketch Wilbur drew on brown wrapping paper,
showing the top, side, and front views of the machine. It was much
larger and heavier than its predecessors - 7 feet high, 19 feet 9
inches in length, with a weight of 605 pounds (without pilot),
sporting a 40 foot 4 inches wingspan and over 500 square feet of
total wing area. Compared to the grace of their earlier gliders,
it was a rather ugly duckling, more squat and stumpy.
The "Flyer" was also
sturdier. The ribs were built up of two pieces of wood, tacked and
glued in place over supporting blocks. The end bows were pieces of
specially bent wood used in carriage building, and they covered
the wings, top and bottom, with a tightly woven muslin known as
"Pride of the West." It came straight off the bolt, with
no additional doping to make it more airtight.
Each wing was built in three
sections, with final construction to take place once they had
arrived at Kitty Hawk in the fall. The two outer bays were warped,
but this time the central bay - which had to support a pilot,
engine and drive mechanism - was rigid by necessity. A hip cradle
provided wing-warping and rudder operation, and there was a hand
control for the elevator, a double-surfaced design the Wrights
hoped would carry a big part of the flight load, especially in the
first moments off the ground.
There were two other significant
changes. Most distinguishable was the droop of the wings, which
appeared too weak to support their weight, the tips being a full
10 inches lower than the central wing section. This droop was
deliberate, meant to minimize wind gusts from the side. Not as
noticeable was the lack of symmetry. The Flyer's right wing was
four inches longer than its left. This, the Wrights realized, was
needed to provide additional lift for the motor and accessories,
which were 50 pounds heavier than the pilot, who lay on the left
side of the central section.
The Wrights were excited,
throughout the summer, as their "whopper flying machine"
as Orville called it, began to take shape. This trip to Kitty
Hawk, they knew, would be unlike those of the past. Before, the
emphasis had been on testing new theories and verifying the
results of testing done the previous winter. This time their goal
was different. Success would be nothing less than getting a
powered machine off the ground and sustaining and controlling its
This "Kitty Hawk
Moment" is brought to you by EAA, whose Countdown to Kitty
Hawk program, presented by Ford Motor Company, includes an exact
flying reproduction of the Wright Flyer. It is the centerpiece of
EAA's national tour during 2003, which will conclude with a
five-day celebration at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, where the
Wright flyer will fly again at exactly 10:35 a.m. on Dec. 17,
2003, commemorating 100 years of powered flight.