f i n a l a p p r o a c h | Column
The Wright Brothers LSA By Ron McElroy
As we approach the deadline for this issue of PilotMag, the tragedy of the Haiti earthquake is on the minds of my family and our nation. I’m encouraged that our nation is one that always tries to respond to those in need. And I pray that those of us that can, have responded either financially or with time, energy, and efforts to help the Haitians in their time of need.
ilots as a group tend to be generous, productive, and inventive. I suspect that will never end. We don’t seek fame or reward when we need to find a solution to a problem or complete a task. The satisfaction and adventure we find internally as a pilot is usually enough. Sometimes glory and fame will choose a few among us, like Captain Sullenberger and First Officer Skiles and crew. They did a great job and deserve the accolades. Most of the heroes of industry are simple fellows working diligently on a project needing a solution, or a military man not afraid to do what needs to be done in the name of freedom. The past century is filled with such heroes, many of which could likely tell us about the greatest stories never told that impacted our lives in silence and in glory. I recently read a book about the Wright Brothers called “The Flyers,” by Noah Adams. It was a fascinating book that explored the nature of silent heroes as well as the story behind their creating the first controllable aeroplane. It’s discusses their family, their home, and their travels before and after Kitty Hawk. And it discusses their challenges and successes through the years. The story of the Wright Brothers was relevant to me since I had seen the Wright Flyer in the Smithsonian Museum just a few months ago
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with my family. My fifth grade twins had only ever read about the Wright Brothers and had never seen this airplane, the Wright Flyer, in person. Of course, as a father who cares about their grasp of American history, I had to prod their enthusiasm a little; but, along with the vast collection of the most famous of America’s first century of flight, it was fun to see them share in my excitement of airplanes and the days of glory. This airplane was not a small craft to handle. In fact, it seemed cumbersome and awkward to handle on both the ground and in the air. I can only imagine the leap of faith of Orville and Wilbur to deliberately try to fly the thing. By our current standards, the airplane was tremendously underpowered and unstable. Yet, with a 12 horsepower homebuilt engine, forty foot wingspan, and propellers, they made aviation history. Perhaps it was luck that they flew on December 17, 1903; but, they had worked diligently and patiently for years leading up to those few magical moments of powered flight in Kitty Hawk, NC. Indeed, the photos of the first moments of flight were, in themselves, a miracle. Much as the dawn of the 20th century awoke to the fever of powered flight, the 21st century holds remarkably similar opportunities for us to create another aviation adventure that could impact the next 100 years in ways we can only dream of.
The similarities of the 1903 Wright Flyer to current day Light Sport Aircraft and homebuilt experimental aircraft are intriguing. All use innovative construction. All use innovative engines. And all generate curiosity among those of us with creative and imaginative minds. I recently flew the Allegro LSA - it was a remarkably refreshing experience. I was having such a great time that it even made me laugh. I’m also excited about the continuing work of Sonex Aircraft, who are testing a prototype kitplane powered by a 240 pound-thrust jet weighing only 47 pounds. The challenges of the Wright Brothers were, in some ways, not so different for our own. We just have more gizmos and gadgets, and 100 years of aircraft development. But their spirit is kept alive in each builder piecing together their own aircraft in their garage or workshop. Pilots are always striving for the best performing, most economical, and now, most ecofriendly aircraft. I believe this century we’ll start to see some real Buck Rogers-type flying machines. Now, if we can just keep the bureaucrats out of the way…. Fly Safe! Fly Smart! Capt Ron CaptRon@PilotMag.com
Captain Ron is a test pilot, instructor pilot, aviation writer and consultant, having published several books and study guides for aspiring pilots and airline candidates. He holds an Airline Transport Pilot, CFII, and Ground Instructor ratings with 10 type ratings and 10,000 flight hours in over 100 types of aircraft. He attended the Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards AFB, CA where he was involved in numerous projects with the Air Force, DoD, and NASA.