Feature: Replica recreates Wright flight

By AL SWANSON  |  Sept. 19, 2003 at 11:02 AM
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CHICAGO, Sept. 19 (UPI) -- Ken Kurincic says flying the replica of the 1903 Wright Flyer he and his friends built in a suburban woodworking shop over the past two years is easier than either hang gliding or skydiving.

"I'd much rather do this than jump out of an airplane," the 36-year-old Glen Ellyn, Ill., landscaper said. "It's not as dangerous as it looks."

At 140 pounds, Kurincic is the ideal weight to be the test pilot aboard the frail-looking spruce and fabric replica of the historic 605-pound airplane flown by Orville and Wilbur Wright on the sands at Kitty Hawk, N.C., a century ago. The centennial of the first powered heavier-than-air flight is Dec. 17, 2003.

Orville weighed 145 pounds and Wilbur 140 pounds.

"I normally fly a single engine plane -- Cessnas, Pipers, that sort of thing," said Kirincic. The plane's other pilot, Mike Gillian, a paving contractor, had to lose a few pounds to get down to 153.

Kurincic, a licensed pilot for 10 years, made his first flight aboard "The Spirit of Glen Ellyn," as the replica is named, in April. He makes his final flight this weekend on the wide lawn in front of Museum of Science and Industry in Hyde Park.

The pilot lies prone, face forward on the wing of the Flyer next to the engine. The pilot sits upright in the Wrights' improved 1905 aircraft.

The replica's longest flight was 357 feet and its first flight was 136 feet, 16 feet longer than the Wright Brothers inaugural flight in 1903.

"We paced it off. It's (the lawn) about 1,500 feet and the Wright Brothers longest flight was about 800 (feet)," said Keith Gill, curator of transportation at the museum.

The idea to build the replica for the 100th anniversary of powered flight came after the father and son team of Tom and Peter Norton got neighbor Mark Miller, a carpenter, to help Peter build a replica of the 1900 Wright Glider for a high school project.

The Glider was donated to an air museum and the team -- which numbered about 10 to 12 -- formed the non-profit Wright Redux Association and began work on the 1903 Wright Flyer.

"We have raised from individuals and organizations less than $75,000 in cash," Mike Perry, 50, secretary and treasurer of Wright Redux, told United Press International. "However all the wood was donated. All the metal fittings were donated. And the engine, of course, was built by our partner Packer Engineering."

The Naperville, Ill.-based engineering consulting and technical services company fabricated the noisy engine from parts designed by more than 30 suppliers. Engineers converted drawings of the 12-horsepower, four-cylinder, water-cooled in-line engine in the Smithsonian Institution into 3-D computer models to replicate the engine.

"The Wright Brothers essentially built one of the very first aluminum block engines to be used for any purpose," said Perry. "Before Packer got involved and built the engine we had gotten quotes of $150,000 and 6 to 9 months to build an engine, and we just didn't have that kind of money in the bank."

The plane is made of high-grade Sitka spruce, ash and muslin cloth, the wire rigging is much like a bicycle spoke and the rear-mounted propellers are Sitka spruce.

The original Flyer was built in the Wrights bicycle shop in Dayton, Ohio, and was disassembled and moved in crates to windy Kitty Hawk, where the first powered flight occurred on Kill Devil Hill.

The replica is 40 feet 4 inches from wingtip to wingtip and 21 feet 1 inch long.

After Saturday's flight the museum will open "Adventures in Flight" featuring the interactive "Flight: Where Adventure Takes Off At The Controls," a exhibit that includes a computerized Microsoft Wright Simulator, two Omnimax films -- "Helicopters: Straight Up" and "Magic of Flight" -- educational programming and a kite flying festival.

"The Wright Brothers plane will end up hanging in our main rotunda sometime in mid-October and it will stay there through the New Year," said Gill. "And then we'll eventually move it into the permanent collection. We're going to have to move some airplanes around so it will take a little bit of time."

The museum's extensive flight exhibit has a "Jenny," the famed Curtiss JN-4D aerial combat trainer of World War I, one of only two remaining Boeing 40B-2 mail transports, a German Stuka Junkers-87b Dive Bomber, a Boeing 727 jetliner, F-14 Tomcat Simulators, the Piccard Gondola, which set ballooning altitude records in the 1930s and Aurora 7, the Mercury program space capsule that circled the Earth for 4 hours May 24, 1962.

"At The Controls" allows visitors to see wide-angle photos of what it was like to sit in the cockpits of 24 historically important aircraft such as the Enola Gay, the Boeing B-29 Superfortress that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima in 1945, the space shuttle Columbia, a British Supermarine Spitfire Mark VII interceptor fighter and the Mercury Friendship 7 space capsule.

The Wright Redux replica is one of several replicas of the historic 1903 Flyer, but is the only one to fly under its own power. A basswood replica of the 1903 aircraft hangs in the Paul Laurence Dunbar Library atrium on the campus of Wright State University in Dayton.

The original plane Orville Wright flew in 1903 is part of the permanent collection in the National Air and Space Museum in Washington. The Wright Brothers offered the bi-plane to the Smithsonian in 1910 but it was the target of several patent fights over the years and was not displayed at the Smithsonian until 1948 after spending 20 years at London's Science Museum.

Topics: Enola Gay
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