Not Quite Wright Kite

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  Not Quite    
Wright Kite
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Wind Tunnel    
And Balance

1902 Wright    
Glider Model

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Making the    
Not Quite    
Wright Kite

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Not Quite    
Wright Kite


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n the summer of 1899, Wilbur and Orville Wright designed an experiment to test a new control system for a flying machine. When you fly you must balance yourself in the air just as a cyclist balances himself on a bicycle. Every little gust of wind will try to upset your airplane just as the bumps in the road can upset a cyclist. But with the proper control system, you can keep your airplane pointed straight ahead and the wings level. 

Will and Orv were especially concerned with that last part - keeping the wings level. They had come to the conclusion that a pilot must be able to roll his airplane from side to side, something that no one had ever achieved before. To do this, they conceived an ingenious system of cables that would twist the wings of an airplane, angling one wingtip up and the other down simultaneously. The wing tip that was angled up would catch the wind on the underside and develop more lift than the wing tip that was angled down. This, they hypothesized, would roll the airplane. 

The brothers decided to test their “wing warping” system on a small, unmanned craft before they risked their own necks on a full-size flying machine. They built a “model glider” that could be flown as a kite. Four control lines ran from the front corners of the model to the ends of two sticks. By tilting the sticks in different directions, the brothers could warp the wings and change the angles of the wing tips. If their idea worked, the model glider would roll back and forth as they tilted the control sticks.

Wilbur finished the model glider in late July. Orville happened to be away on a camping trip, and Will just couldn’t wait for him to get back. On the next windy day, he took the model out to an open field near his home in Dayton, Ohio. Several young boys followed him to see what was up. Will enlisted one of them to help launch his machine. The boy help the kite over his head while Will arranged the control lines. Then at Will’s signal, the boy released the glider and it climbed into the air. After a few close calls, Will got the hang of wing warping and began to roll the kite back and forth across the sky. His hypothesis was correct, warping the wings would roll an airplane in the sky. The control system worked! 

Will was so excited that he jumped on his bicycle and rode miles out into the countryside where Orville was camping with some friends. Will told Orv the news and immediately the two began to lay plans for building a full-size, man-carrying glider. In just a few years, this wing warping system would develop into a revolutionary system of aircraft control that would allow the Wright brothers to unlock the secret of flight.

We've designed this kite so those of you who would like to experience this scientific adventure for yourselves can do so with a minimum of effort and expense. The kite performs exactly the same way the Wrights' kite worked — you pull on the control strings to warp the wings. However, it's not quite a Wright Kite.

First of all it's made from inexpensive materials that you can pick up at a grocery store such as  bamboo skewers, flew straws, and trash can liners. You don't need any special skills to make it; you just tape the parts together as we explain in Making the Not Quite Wright Kite.

Secondly, it's light enough that you can fly it in a light breeze. You don't need the high winds with which Wilbur had to contend. This makes it much simpler to learn how to fly the kite, as we explain in Flying the Not Quite Wright Kite.

Wilbur drew this sketch in 1911 to show how his 1899 kite worked.

This sketch was done about the same time to illustrate how the kite's wings twisted.

Click to see an animation of the kite as its wings are twisted by the control strings.

A Not Quite Wright Kite, built by one of the young people who have participated in our workshops.

The Not Quite Wright Kite is built mostly from straws, trash can liners, twisty-ties, and tape.

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"Aviation is proof that – given the will – we can do the impossible."
 Eddie Rickenbacker



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