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Full Scale Replica of Wright 1900 Aircraft

Image of students with the replica of the Wright 1900 aircraft
Photo by Susan Latham

The scientists and engineers of tomorrow are working with today’s engineers and technicians to retrace the steps of the Wright Brothers. A full scale replica of the Wright’s 1900 aircraft has been built in a joint effort between the Orono Middle School of Orono, Maine, and the NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio. The aircraft is to be used as a traveling exhibit, an educational tool, and eventually as a fixed exhibit at the Glenn Visitor Information Center.

In 2003, the world celebrated the 100th anniversary of the first flight of the Wright Brothers’ airplane. In reality, the brothers had been flying and learning to fly for several years before. They first arrived at Kitty Hawk in 1900 with an aircraft that was flown mostly as an un-piloted kite.

Image of the Wright 1900 aircraft
Photograph from 1900 of the aircraft in flight.

They had come to Kitty Hawk to test out their ideas concerning the control and maneuvering of an aircraft by warping or twisting the wings in flight. On the last day before heading back to Dayton, Ohio, Wilbur took his first glider flight in this aircraft. All of the subsequent Wright aircraft looked like this aircraft, with two wings separated by struts and held together with cables, with a stabilizer/elevator located in the front of the aircraft, and with the pilot lying on the lower wing.

Image of a spar and rib of the replica Wright 1900 aircraft
Spar and rib.

During the winter of 2000, the 6th grade science students at Orono Middle School built a full scale replica of the Wright’s 1900 aircraft. Led by their teacher, Richard Glueck, the students shaped the wing ribs, connected them to the wing spars, sewed on the wing covering, built the struts, and put the aircraft together.

Just like the Wright brothers, the students flew their aircraft as a kite, as shown at the top of this page. After the flight attempts, the kite was disassembled and the struts were given to the students as a memento. Mr. Glueck then offered the wings of the replica to NASA and the Centennial of Flight Commission.

Image of a completed aircraft
The completed aircraft.

In late May of 2001, the wings arrived at the NASA Glenn Research Center. Technicians in Glenn’s Prototyping and Outsourcing Branch reconstructed the aircraft to replace the struts and incorporate the wing warping used by the Wright brothers.

The aircraft was used as a traveling exhibit. It was shown at the Ohio Society for the Elevation of Kites (OSEK) free fly on July 8, 2001. It was displayed at the Congressional Centennial of Flight Booth at the AirVenture Airshow in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, in late July, 2001. and at the Cleveland Airshow, Sept 1-3, 2001.

Image of an aircraft at the NASA Glenn Hangar
The aircraft at the NASA Glenn Hangar.

The aircraft is also used for educational purposes. The aircraft has been rigged to illustrate the Wright brothers’ wing warping technique for roll control. To demonstrate this technique and other fundamentals of aerodynamics, engineers at NASA Glenn attempted to fly the aircraft at the NASA Glenn Hangar.

Computer predictions of the performance of the aircraft indicate that sustained winds of 15-20 mph are necessary to overcome the weight of the aircraft. On the first attempt to fly the kite, we only had sustained winds of 8-10 mph with gusts to 20 mph. During the gusts, the plane would lift, but not long enough to truly fly.

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