The 1900 Wright Glider

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he 1900 Wright Glider was a revolution in aeronautical engineering. It was the first of its kind with aerodynamic control surfaces – movable planes to help balance the glider in the air. The front elevator could be curved to pitch the nose of the aircraft up or down. The wings could be twisted or "warped"  to roll the aircraft right and left. The pioneer glider pilots that preceded the Wright brothers had simply shifted their weight to balance their craft – a difficult, dangerous, and ineffective method of control.

There were other innovations as well. The Wrights used considerably less rigging to brace their airframe than previous glider makers such as Pilcher, Chanute, and Lilienthal. This reduced drag considerably. For that same reason, the pilot lay in a prone position rather than hanging beneath the glider. Orville had done some bicycle racing, and the brothers were well aware of what a difference could be made in performance by reducing the profile of the operator in the wind.

Unfortunately, despite their measures to reduce drag, the performance was disappointing. The Wrights' first glider did not produce the expected lift. Only in high winds – too high to fly safely – would it carry a grown man. Consequently, they flew it mostly as an unmanned kite. But it was a success in one respect. The control surfaces worked well. Manipulating the controls from the ground with cables, the brothers could pitch and roll the aircraft with authority. Just before they left Kitty Hawk to return home to Dayton, Wilbur mounted the glider for several manned glides, some of which covered over 200 feet. Encouraged by the success of their controls and thrilled by their first real flights, they began to build a series of gliders and airplanes, each one better than the last. This work eventually resulted in the first practical aircraft.

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of these first tentative flights, the Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company built a replica of the 1900 Glider, then flew it at Kitty Hawk on October 22, 2000 -- precisely a century after the Wrights made their first flights.

Kiting the 1901 Wright Glider for the PBS film, Kitty Hawk: A Journey of Invention.

Launching the 1900 Wright Glider for Kitty Hawk: A Journey of Invention.

Shades of Tom Tate. Like the Wright brothers, we kited a young person aloft in the 1900 glider. Tom must have enjoyed his ride at least as much as this young lady.

If you like to see some flight tests of our 1900 Wright Glider replica, click HERE.

The 1900 Glider replica as it looks from the rear. Like all early Wright aircraft, the elevator is in front. This aircraft had a tail at first, but Wilbur removed it when he was sure the controls worked properly.

The glider from the right side -- note that the rear spar is on top of the ribs instead of under them. Early on, the Wrights thought that lift was produced underneath the wings and that it was more important to keep the underside of the wing smooth.

The glider diagonally from the right side. They were wrong, of course -- about keeping the bottom of the wings smooth, that is. In its position on top of the spar, the rear spar acts as a spoiler and reduces the lift.

The glider straight on. Although the rigging was based on a standard "Pratt Truss," it was a system the Wrights had invented. By tensioning just four wires on the airplane, they could tune all the flying and landing wires.

A diagonal view from the left front. That's Kitty Hawk Bay behind the glider.

And finally, the left side. The big lump at the front of the elevator is a 25-pound bag of lead shot to keep the wind from snatching the glider.

The leading edge of the bottom wing – the sateen wing covering wraps around the front spar forming a pocket. The glider puts on weight in this area. The fine sand works its way into the pocket around the front spar and slowly accumulates.

The glider cockpit -- you lay down with your weight supported on the front spar and the "belly bar." It is the most uncomfortable cockpit you can imagine. The Wrights were dynamite at engineering, but sadly lacking in ergonomics.

The kickbar – by pressing the top of the "T" with one foot or the other, you actuate the wing warping. Kick right to roll the aircraft left and kick left to roll it right.

The elevator controls are backwards as well. Twist the control bar up to go down and down to go up. Not exactly intuitive or "user friendly" controls.

The frame of the 1900 Wright Glider before we covered the wings and elevator.

The frames of all the Wrights gliders were lashed together with waxed linen cord, the "duct tape" of the Victorian era. This is the rear left corner of the upper wing.

A front rib and strut attachment. The front spar was cut to a triangular shape.

1900 Wright Glider rigging and control wires.

We made the three-way pivot for the swing wires from three bicycle chain links.

Our camp at Jockey's Ridge State Park, North Carolina, with all three gliders outside our hangar/tent.

The 1900, 1901, and 1903 Wright gliders from the front.

The gliders from the side.

And from the rear. We made this line-up to compare the gliders and see first-hand the evolution of the Wright brothers' aeronautical science and engineering.

1900 Wright Glider in 3D

This HTML5 animation of the 1900 Wright glider lets you explore the aircraft from any angle and in fine detail. To rotate the glider, hold down on the left click mouse button. To pan the scene, hold down in the right click button. To zoom in and out, use the mouse wheel. To start the animation and enter the 3D screen, click  HERE or on any one of the illustrations to the right.

Because of the amount of detail, the HTML5 file is quite large and will take time to load, perhaps several minutes if you have a slow connection. To view the animation, you either need an up-to-date browser or a Google Chrome Frame plugin for you old browser.

You can also view the animation as a 3D PDF in Adobe Acrobat Reader 9.0 or better. Click HERE to view or download the 3D PDF file.

View from front left diagonal above.

Front view.

Left side view.

View from right rear diagonal below.

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Adventure Wing/Virtual Hangar/1900 Wright Glider

Part of a biography of the Wright Brothers
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