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March 3, 1999

Michael Mewhinney

NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA

(Phone: 650/604-3937 or 604-9000) email:



NASA is conducting a wind tunnel test of a full-scale replica of the historic 1903 Wright Flyer this month to learn more about its stability, control and handling characteristics.

During the two-week test, March 1-14, project engineers will study the replica's stability, control and handling at speeds up to 30 mph. Tests are being conducted at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA, in the world's largest wind tunnel. Test results will be used to compile a historically accurate aerodynamic database of the Wright Flyer.

"I can't think of anything as exciting as using modern technology to test an aerodynamic replica of the biplane that Orville and Wilbur Wright flew for the first time in 1903 at Kitty Hawk," said Pete Zell, Ames' wind tunnel test manager. "NASA is here as a resource for the public and to inspire young people. This project seeks to educate and inspire youth," Zell said.

"Testing the Wright Flyer gives us a chance to relive history," said Craig Hange, Ames' wind tunnel test engineer. "By understanding the flying characteristics of the Wright Flyer, we gain a better understanding of the Wright brothers' science and engineering skills, as well as an appreciation of the process that led to the development of the airplanes we fly today."

A team of volunteers from the Los Angeles section of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) built the replica using precise data from the original airplane provided by the Smithsonian. The replica features a 40-foot, 4-inch wingspan reinforced with piano wire, cotton wing coverings, spruce propellers and a double rudder. Although it will replicate the 1903 Wright Flyer in design, size, appearance and aerodynamics, some changes have been made to strengthen the airplane for the wind tunnel tests.

Upon completion of the tests, the replica will be transported to Los Angeles, where it will be permanently displayed in the lobby of the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) Western Pacific Regional Office in Hawthorne, CA. The lobby will be renamed the FAA Flight Deck Museum and include a variety of other exhibits depicting the history of aviation.

Using the wind tunnel test data, a second Wright Flyer will be built by the AIAA volunteers and flown on Dec. 17, 2003, commemorating the 100th anniversary flight of Orville and Wilbur Wright at Kitty Hawk, NC. During a re-creation of the Wright brothers' first flight, the aircraft will fly low and travel at only 30 mph, the same speed flown by the Wright brothers, whose first flight traveled only 120 feet during its 12 seconds in the air. Fred Culick, 63, of Altadena, CA, a private pilot and an aeronautics professor at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA, will be the first to fly the airplane.

Orville and Wilbur Wright were responsible for a host of aviation inventions, including wing warping, which provides lateral control and allows an airplane to bank left or right. They also invented the forward stabilizer, which controls the airplane's up and down movement, and the moveable rear rudder, which enables the pilot to turn the aircraft.

"The work of the Wright Brothers founded the science and technology of aeronautics, and their accomplishments form one of the grandest chapters in history," said Jack Cherne, TRW engineer and chairman of the Wright Flyer Project. The project is composed of volunteers from the Los Angeles section of the AIAA. In contrast to the Wright brothers, who took less than a year to build their biplane, AIAA volunteers spent their Saturdays for the past 18 years planning and assembling the replica.

The replica underwent special tests as a prerequisite for entering the NASA wind tunnel. During static testing, more than three times the flight load (or more than 3,000 pounds) was applied successfully. The replica also underwent tests of its propeller system at Able Corp. in Yorba Linda, CA. In the NASA wind tunnel, the replica will be powered by a NASA electric motor.

The replica has about $100,000 worth of donated materials from companies such as Northrop Corp./Aircraft Division, Torrance, CA, which also provided the project a home base for 15 years; International Die Casting, Gardena, CA; McDonnell Douglas, Long Beach, CA; Rockwell International, Downey, CA; and TRW Redondo Beach, CA.

Biographies, live Internet webcasts, K-12 lesson plans and more test information are available at the NASA Quest website located at:

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