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The villagers, who had regarded the Wright brothers as "a pair of crazy fools," remained dubious about the lIying proposition. "Welaughed about 'em among ourselves:' said John Daniels, one of the regular Kitty Hawk lifeguards. grams. Three men could pick it up and carry it with little trouble. "It was built to withstand hard usage," Wilbur said, and though it looked thin and spare, it felt sturdy. When they faced it into a steady breeze, it no longer seemed ungainly. Suddenly they were no longer holding it up but holding it down. Their first gliders, especially the one built in 1900, had flown as any child's kite flies, with the line at a slanting angle of about 45 degrees. The closer a kite's line ascends to the vertical, the greater the kite's efficiency. One whose cord runs on a vertical line down to the operator is, in effect, soaring. It is aerodynamically perfect. If it could move forward under its own power, it would beflying. On Wednesday, September 10, 1902, the brothers tested the upper wing as a kite. Two days later they tested the lower wing. They found that these curved surfaces, flown by themselves, exerted less pull on the Iines than had their 1901 machine. This meant the wind was guiding the wing into a flatter angle of attack, which promised flatter, longer glides. Next, the brothers assembled the entire glider and carried it to a slope they measured at about seven degrees. In a steady wind, they let out their lines. The glider rose. The lines stood nearly straight up and stayed there. On the morning of Friday, September 19, Wilbur made the first 25 test glides of the season, with Orville and their assistant, Dan Tate, running alongside with a hand on the wingtips. That day and the next, Wilbur found that slight adjustments in the angle of the new front elevator, a smaller pair of movable wings, offered him control of the glider's fore-and-aft movements. But the new control device was tricky. To turn up, the operator had to push the elevator-control bar down-the reverse of

the 190 I controls. With this movement not yet instinctive, Wilbur found himself aloft in a cross-gust that caught the left wingtip and pushed it skyward "in a decidedly alarming manner." Wilbur, in confusion, turned the elevator up instead of down and found the glider suddenly "bent on a mad attempt to pierce the heavens." He recovered and landed without damage. But he continued to have problems keeping the wingtips level in crosswinds. For a long, rainy Sunday the brothers stewed and debated, "at a loss to know what the cause might be." What new forces had they summoned by lengthening the wings and adding a tail? The next day, they retrussed the wings so that the tips dipped slightly below the level ofthe center section. With this slight arch, the glider took on the droop-winged look of gulls, which fly well in high winds. Kite tests vindicated their intuition. ow crosswinds, if anything, seemed to improve their lateral balance. "The machine flew beautifully," Orville wrote that evening, and "when the proper angle of incidence was attained, seemed to soar." He began the morning after the wings were retrussed, practicing assisted glides to get the feel of the controls. The tips were so responsive that in one flight he "caused the machine to sway from side to side, sidling one way and then the other a half dozen times in the distance of the glide." Orville managed one respectable flight of about 49 meters at an admirably low angle of descent. Then, while concentrating on a wingtip that had risen too high, he lost track of the elevator controls and rushed upward to a height of 7.6 or 9 meters. Wilbur and Dan Tate cried out. Orville stalled, slid backward and struck the ground wingfirst with a crackle of splintering spruce and ash. "The result was a heap of flying machine, cloth, and

sticks, with me in the center without a bruise or a scratch," he wrote in his diary. This "slight catastrophe" meant days of repairs. But that evening the brothers were so pleased with the glider that "we are ... in a hilarious mood." Orville wrote Kate: "The control will be almost perfect, we think, when we once learn to properly operate the rudders." The control was not perfect. The winds of the Outer Banks blew in turbulent swirls, and on the dunes there was no lift balance to hold the glider's wings safe and steady. In the next few days, the repaired machine made many more glides under good control. But every so often, "without any apparent reason," one wingtip would rise and fai I to respond when the pi lot pulled the cables that warped, or twisted, the wings-the key to the Wrights' system of staying balanced in the air. Tilting heavily to one side, the machine would go into a sickening slide sideways in the direction of the tilt. One side of the glider rose and gathered speed, the other side dipped low and slowed, and the whole craft spun into a frightening, out of control circle. The problem was dangerous and bewildering, and they could not claim control of the glider until they had solved it. To the brothers' delight, their older brother, Lorin Wright, 40, walked into camp on the last day of September, and, equally welcome, George Spratt arrived the next afternoon. The barren expanse of sand increasingly took on the look of a sportman's camp. Spratt and Lorin snagged crabs for bait and caught an eel and some chubs. The three brothers competed in target shooting with Orville's rifle. To the rhythm of the nearby surf, they talked over the evening fire, Lorin lending his own assessments of the glides. Wilbur climbed to his bunk early, often by 7:30. Orville stayed up later. On the night of October 2, Orville drank more coffee than usual and lay awake for a long time. The glider's curious geometry floated through his mind-and a perception dawned. In the out of control episodes, he saw that as the glider went into its sideways slide, the fixed vertical tail in the rear not only failed to keep it straight, but it also collided with stationary air, and pushed the ma-

Profile for SPAN magazine

SPAN: July/August 2003  

An American Gharana?; Digital Railroad to Fly; Think Tanks & U.S. Foreign Policy; Can Economic Diplomacy in South Asia Work?; Muscle & Magic...

SPAN: July/August 2003  

An American Gharana?; Digital Railroad to Fly; Think Tanks & U.S. Foreign Policy; Can Economic Diplomacy in South Asia Work?; Muscle & Magic...

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