Wright on!

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KITTY HAWK, N.C. – The world’s first controllable airplane left the ground in a historic flight 100 years ago, and flight enthusiasts and historians are celebrating in 2002 and 2003 in a big way.

On a gray December morning nearly 100 years ago, two brothers from Dayton, Ohio, stood atop wet, windswept Kill Devil Hill in Kitty Hawk, N.C., hoping to prove to the world that powered, manned flight was possible.

On Dec. 17, 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright did just that.

Orville Wright successfully flew a strange-looking contraption called the Wright Flyer for 12 seconds and covered a distance of 120 feet, not impressive by today’s standards but monumental at the time. It was first time a powered flying machine had taken off from level ground, traveled through the air, and landed under the control of its pilot.

But an equally important flight took place in 1902, also on those hills near Kitty Hawk. And, in celebration of that flight’s 100th anniversary, an exact replica of Orville and Wilbur Wright’s original craft took flight in North Carolina Oct. 7, 2002.

The exhibition took place at Jockey’s Ridge State Park, about five miles south of Kitty Hawk.

Ohio-built. The glider was built by the Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company, a nonprofit organization based in West Milton, Ohio, and made up of aviators, historians and educators.

Since 1999, the organization has built and flown several replicas of the Wright brothers’ aircraft. The group uses the same materials the brothers used to build their gliders: spruce and ash wood, tightly woven cotton fabric and a lot of handcrafted hardware.

The director of the company said the main reason for the project is a deep passion for flying.

“The simplest reason (I do this) is that I love to fly and I love to teach,” said Nick Engler. “The Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company is an educational institution. We are here to tell the Wright story. That is the best way to create ‘seed corn’ for aviation (and) to get kids interested.”

About the glider. The 36-foot-long glider has no cockpit. The pilot lies down on a cross bar, exposed to the elements, and uses body movement to control the craft.

The 1902 model is significant, Engler said, because it is the first aircraft to provide three axes of control – roll, pitch and yaw – to the pilot.

The pilot can control roll, tipping the wings; pitch, raising and lowering the nose; and yaw, rotating the aircraft as though it were turning left or right while still on the ground.

“This was the world’s first controllable airplane,” Engler said. “Everything that has flown successfully since 1902 has had roll, pitch and yaw control. This was the first machine ever to have that.”

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