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The Wright stuff.

Each year about 1.4 billion airline passengers soar off to hundreds of destinations around the globe. So it's almost shocking to think that the very first airplane, made mostly of cloth and wood by Orville and Wilbur Wright, sputtered into the sky less than 100 years ago.

In 1903, the Wright Flyer carried Orville 37 meters (120 ft) through the air for a mere 12 seconds. Since then, many enthusiasts have hammered together full-scale replicas of the Flyer, but no one has ever figured out the trick of getting them off the ground. So how did the Wright brothers wing it?

A group of volunteer engineers in Los Angeles hope to find out. They've constructed a duplicate of the original Flyer, and they plan to test it in the world's largest wind tunnel at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. The wind tunnel, measuring 24 m by 37 m (80 ft by 120 ft), is big enough to hold an entire 747 jet--the Flyer spans only 12 m (40 ft) front wingtip to wingtip.

In January, the replica will be mounted on a post inside the wind tunnel, where six large propellers at one end of the tunnel will generate 48 km/h (30 mph) winds. The air moving through the stationary plane simulates flight, or a plane moving through stationary air, explains Jack Cherne, the aeronautical engineer heading the project, (Imagine running through stationary air. Your hair would blow back just as if you were standing still on a windy day.)

Instruments on the post will measure such aerodynamic features as the plane's lift (upward force) and drag (the frictional force exerted on the plane when air flows against it).

Preliminary tests have shown that the original plane was unstable. The fact that the Wright brothers didn't kill themselves was a miracle. With the new test results, Cherne and his group should be able to build a second full-scale replica that actually flies!

"We're going to make some changes for our safety," says Cherne. The wind-tunnel data should reveal how to modify the wings' shape and plane's center of gravity so it can lift off. If all goes well, Cherne's group will fly into the friendly skies and relive history on December 17, 2003, the 100th anniversary of the first flight.
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Title Annotation:recreating the Wright Flyer airplane
Author:Chang, M.
Publication:Science World
Date:Oct 5, 1998
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