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March 12, 2003
Wright flyer look-alike takes to air
Utah State student-design project succeeds

By Timothy R. Gaffney
Dayton Daily News

WENDOVER, Utah | A look-alike of an early Wright flyer — but made of space-age materials — made its first test flights Tuesday on a former World War II bomber base in northwestern Utah.

The product of a Utah State University student design project, the airplane made several brief flights down the runway at Wendover Airport with a volunteer pilot at the controls.

"What an aircraft. That is just incredible," Louis Luedtke, president and CEO of the National Composite Center in Kettering, said by phone from the airfield as the flyer roared by on its third run.

NCC has agreed to help USU bring the flyer to several First Flight Centennial events in Dayton this year as part of a national tour.

Pilot Wayne Larsen said he kept the airplane close to the runway and flew straight and level during the first flights.

It's a little bit different from what I'm accustomed to, but once you get into the air, it's quite stable," said Larson, a flight instructor and agricultural pilot.

The flights culminated about 10,000 hours of work by a 10-person student team and faculty advisers, said Dave Widauf, an engineering professor and the project's faculty director.

"It's very impressive. We flew farther than the Wright brothers did on their first flight," he said.

Wilbur and Orville Wright invented the airplane in their West Dayton bicycle shop and made the first powered flights at Kitty Hawk, N.C., in 1903. Orville's first flight lasted 12 seconds and covered 120 feet of ground.

The USU Flyer is one of many Wright replicas or look-alikes that have been built in conjunction with the centennial anniversary of powered flight, but one of only a few built to fly, and the only one built by students from advanced aerospace materials.

The structure is made of carbon-fiber and Kevlar composites, and the double-decker wings — spanning 40 feet — are covered with modern vinyl aircraft fabric. A Harley Davidson motorcycle engine turns its twin pusher propellers.

The airplane is scheduled to be on display at the Air Power 2003 open house at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base on May 10-11. During Dayton's main centennial of flight celebration in July, the flyer is scheduled to be on display at the Huffman Prairie Flying Field and at the Vectren Dayton Air Show, Luedtke said. It will return later for a national composites industry show.

Widauf said the plane was based on the 1905 model and most closely resembles their 1909 flyer because it has two upright seats. Earlier flyers carried one pilot, who lay prone on the lower wing.

The student machine also has wheels in addition to skids. The Wrights didn't add wheels until later, Widauf said.

More subtle but more critical were engineering changes that made the flyer more stable, said Nick Alley, a USU mechanical engineering doctoral student and the lead designer.

"Even the 1905, their first practical airplane, was really unstable. Today, it would never be allowed to fly," he said.

Contact Timothy R. Gaffney at or 225-2390.

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