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It was actually the second day of test flights for the flier, constructed by students and faculty members at Utah State University, Logan. The plane made low-flying runs to the delight of about 60 spectators beside the runway who cheered as the biplane taxied along, with the engine puttering and two vehicles following it. Then it gently lifted off the asphalt and flew at an unbelievably slow rate for an aircraft, like some giant box kite, going maybe 10 feet above the surface before it touched down on the runway.
Wayne Larsen of Tremonton has a flying service based in Brigham City. Project backers say Hill Air Force Base pilots had volunteered to fly the aircraft. But Larsen was chosen because he does crop dusting and the plane needs a pilot used to flying low and slow.
Before the plane left the air, Larsen had one of Utah's most distinguished pilots as co-pilot: former Sen. Jake Garn of Utah. The two took the Wright flier for several practice taxi runs previous to the actual flight. The plane revved its engines and scooted smoothly along the asphalt of the taxiway, and at times the front wheels lifted from the ground, but not the main wheel carriage.
The plane is far from an exact replica of the Wright brothers' 1903 model. Dave Widauf, USU aeronautics professor and director of the Wright Brothers Flyer Project, said that he and another professor, Chuck Larsen, wanted to somehow celebrate the 100th anniversary of Wilbur and Orville's Kitty Hawk flight and came up with the idea of building the flier.
As originally designed, the Wright aircraft would crash after most flights. It was extremely unstable. The only reason they were able to fly at all is "they got very good at flying a very unstable airplane," Widauf said.
One of the Wrights' errors is that the plane was not balanced properly. To compensate, the USU engineers moved the engine 6 or 8 inches forward. As originally designed, the Wright plane had a stability that would now be rated as minus 23 on the modern scale. The Air Force considers anything at minus five or worse to be unflyable.
The students' plane is about the same size as the original, retains the biwing design, has struts and bicycle chains to move the two wooden propellers and still has landing skids underneath. However, the skids now have modern wheels attached and the engine is a Harley Davidson motorcycle engine. The plane also now has two seats, but only the pilot was in the plane Wednesday when it took to the air. In the Wright brothers' day, one of the brothers would just lie on the lower wing.
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