Thursday, August 31, 2017

How March Field Air Museum ended up with Wright brothers plane

Riverside County is now home to two of the world’s Wright Flyer replicas.

The original plane, with which Wilbur and Orville Wright made their historic Kitty Hawk flight, hangs in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. But there are several full-size reproductions that have been built over the years. At least one, built by the Wright Experience for the centennial celebration of the initial flight, is airworthy.

The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics started its own Wright Flyer project in Southern California in 1978. Over the years, the group built two replicas. One was designed to undergo wind tunnel tests at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Sunnyvale. The second was built to fly. So far, it hasn’t. It has been sitting in a hangar at Flabob Airport in Jurupa Valley since 2007.

The first replica, which successfully underwent the NASA wind tunnel tests in 1999, had been hanging on display at the Federal Aviation Administration West Coast headquarters in Hawthorne until recently. The agency is remodeling its offices and was looking for a new home for the flyer. Officials from March Field Air Museum in Riverside stepped up.

On Aug. 16, it was shipped to the Inland museum. After some slight restoration, it was lifted into place on Wednesday, Aug. 30, suspended from the ceiling of one of the museum’s hangars. It will go on display in the coming weeks, after some additions, including a background mural and a display depicting the Wright brothers’ bicycle shop.

“Now we’re complete,” said Jamil Dada, chairman of the museum’s board of directors. “I feel like we have the beginning and the end. We have the Predator (an Air Force drone currently in use in combat areas) and we have the first airplane.”

Museum curator John Houlihan said the new plane provides context.

“We can show people how far aviation has come,” Houlihan said. “It’s going to make all the difference in the world.”

While there are slight differences between the original Wright brothers’ plane and the museum’s replica, they are slight. The “engine” mounted at the center of the 40-foot 4-inch wing, weighs the same as the original but is not a working engine. Locking nuts were used instead of the original screws. But some of the elements are impressive duplications.

The influence of the Wright brothers’ familiarity with bicycles is evident in some of the flight mechanisms. Bicycle chains were used in several places. In fact, according to the aeronautic institute’s website, “The Diamond Chain Company, who had made the chain for the Wrights, still had the tooling to make the now non-standard chain and manufactured ours.”

Details such as this, Houlihan said, make the plane worthy of attention.

The Wright design used a set of elevators in the front of the plane to provide the up and down control provided by ailerons in most modern planes. Twin vertical rudders in the rear of the plane were operated by the pilot, supported by a cradle, shifting his hips to one side or the other.

The museum also plans to mount a mannequin in the pilot’s position, dressed in period clothing.

While the plane’s design is obviously antique and its structure, according to Houlihan, is “very, very delicate,” it will hold its own as a museum display.

“It’s a big airplane,” Houlihan said.

Gazing up at the hovering model, Dada agreed.

“I didn’t realize it was going to be so big,” he said, remarking that it dominates the portion of the hanger it occupies. “It’s huge.”

The museum is at 22550 Van Buren Boulevard, Riverside. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Admission is $10 for adults, $5 for children 5-11. 

Original article can be found here ➤

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