1911 Wright Glider
 

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n 1911, Orville and Wilbur Wright planned a return to Kitty Hawk, NC for another round of gliding experiments. The stated purpose of the trip was to test an automatic stabilizer – a primitive autopilot – that the brothers had been developing since 1905. Correspondence between the two suggests they had another, private goal – to finish what they started when they first came to Kitty Hawk and create a true soaring machine. The Wrights were among the first scientists to realize that the wind moves vertically as well as horizontally. A glider in an updraft that descends at the same rate as the rising air can remain aloft indefinitely.

To this end they built an experimental glider that could ride the upslope winds at Kill Devil Hills.  At first glance, the glider looked similar to the powered Wright “Model B” aircraft, but it was actually a completely new design. The wings were patterned after the Wright “Model EX,” but much lighter. The rudder design was untried, although it would become standard fare on later aircraft. Additionally, the glider evolved as it was flown. First, Orville extended the distance between the tail and wings 4.5 feet (1.4 meters) to make the rudder and elevator more effective. When that proved insufficient, he added a “blinker” (vertical stabilizer) and a larger elevator. Both parts were salvaged from the Wright Flyer III which Orville and Wilbur had left in Kitty Hawk in 1908. Finally, he adjusted the center of gravity by hanging a bag filled with 12 pounds (5.4 kilograms) of sand in front of the aircraft.

The 1911 Wright Glider specifications, in its final configuration:

  • 32 ft (9.6 m) wingspan
  • 5 ft (2.1 m) chord
  • 1/24 camber
  • 3.6 ft (1.1 m) separation
  • 300 sq ft (27.9 sq m) wing area
  • 28 sq ft (2.6 sq m) rear elevator area
  • 13.5 sq ft (1.3 sq m) rudder area
  • 28.7 ft (8.7 m) length (including sand counterweight)
  • 170 lbs (77.1 kg) weight (including sand counterweight)

Wilbur unfortunately could not make the trip to Kitty Hawk – he had just gotten back from Europe in August of 1911 after being gone since March. In addition to being sick of traveling, he was snowed under by legal obligations generated by the Wright Company's patent suits. Orville left Dayton on 7 October 1911 with his brother Lorin, his nephew Horace, and a pilot-friend from England, Alec Ogilvie.

Orville and Ogilvie made about 90 flights in the glider at Kitty Hawk. These first attempts at soaring were as challenging as anything the Wrights had ever done. Orville would later report, "Flying in a 25-meter-per-second (about 55 mph) wind is no snap, and I can tell you that it keeps one pretty busy with the levers." The glider overturned twice in the high winds, crashing to the ground. Plans to test the stabilizer evaporated; the air was much too rough.

On 24 Oct 1911 Orville found the right wind. He took off in a 40 mph (64.3 kph) upslope wind gusting up the sides of Kill Devil Hills. He quickly rose to an altitude of 50 feet (15.2 meters) and remained there for 5-1/2 minutes. He flew again, gliding for 7-1/4 minutes. And again, soaring for 9-3/4 minutes, seeming to hang motionless over the same patch of sand. These were the first recorded soaring flights, the last one setting a record that would stand for ten years. Orville sent a triumphant message to Wilbur saying, “All our theories are proved.”

The 1911 glider  was abandoned at Kitty Hawk, stored in the shed with the remains of the Wright Flyer III. It stayed there until 1914 when Zenas Crane obtained Orville's permission to salvage both aircraft for the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, MS. Crane did a poor job of restoring the glider, so much so that it infuriated Orville and the glider was never exhibited. It is thought to have been discarded at some point before 1946 when the  Flyer III was transferred to Carillon Park in Dayton, OH.

References:

  • McFarland, Marvin W. (ed) The papers of Wilbur and Orville Wright. McGraw-Hill Book Co., New York, 1953, p 1183, plates 198-201.
  • Crouch, Tom D., The Bishop's Boys, A Life of Wilbur and Orville Wright. W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 1989, pp 444-445.

 [Submitted by Joe W. McDaniel]
 


The Wrights theorized that if the flying speed and glide slope of the glider was equal to or less than the speed and angle of the upslope wind, the aircraft could ride the wind indefinitely, appearing to hang in the air above the sand.


Orville and his crew add a new section of framework to the glider between the wings and the tail, extending the length of the glider about 4.5 feet (1.4 meters).


Carrying the glider up one of the Kill Devil Hills near Kitty Hawk.

A close-up of the glider in flight.

Orville's crew watches him soar.

A close-up of the glider cockpit. Orville Wright (left) and Alec Ogilvie (right) make adjustments to the controls.

Flying out from the dune in an onshore breeze. Orville appears to be headed for the ocean, but the wind will push him back as quickly as he can glide forward.

A gust of wind catches the glider as it lands and overturns it. Orville wisely stays in the cockpit while this is happening – the square-rigged wing framework makes a protective roll cage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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