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March 13, 2003
The Wright stuff
USU students construct replica of original

By Arrin Brunson
Staff Writer

WENDOVER, NV -- Nearly 100 years after Wilbur and Orville Wright completed the first powered airplane flight, Utah State University engineering students, faculty members and community volunteers discovered that they have the right stuff, too.

A modified replica of the Wright Flyer, built with state-of-the-art composite materials at the Logan campus, successfully took flight Tuesday and Wednesday at the Historic Wendover Airport.

The airport was the ideal setting for the USU Wright Flyer's first flight this week. The remote location gave team members the privacy they might not have been able to find in Logan, although there are plans to host a similar event for the public in Cache Valley in the near future, according to John DeVilbiss, executive director of USU public relations and marketing.

"There was a great deal of apprehension with these folks because this was the first time they were flying it for real. They weren't quite sure what would happen," DeVilbiss said.

The first flight of the USU replica lasted approximately 22 seconds and carried the experimental airplane 800 feet, compared to the Wright Brother's first flight of 120 feet in 12 seconds in 1903.

After private tests of the USU Wright Flyer on Tuesday afternoon, members of the press were invited to the site. By 9 a.m. Wednesday, representatives from nearly a dozen print and broadcast media organizations from around the states of Utah and Nevada, plus several representatives from The History Channel, were on the scene.

Team members used words like "awesome," "wonderful," "great," "jubilation" and "joy" to describe the sense of accomplishment they felt. Individuals bawled, yelled, screamed and jumped up and down as the plane whirred past, 4- and 15-feet off the ground in front of them.

Tooele native Jill Stout, 21, is a junior in the aircraft maintenance program at USU, who helped build the USU Wright Flyer from the ground up. The hands-on practice, coupled with classroom lectures about the Wright Brothers, have made the educational experience more meaningful, she said.

"It all just came together, and I've been able to learn things more in detail because of what I've already done with my hands," she said. "We built all the parts ourselves. Seeing it come from nothing into this, and now seeing it fly, is incredible."

The sense of attachment students feel is a natural result of each team member's investment, according to Charles "Chuck" Larsen, a teacher in USU's Industrial Technology and Education Department who oversaw the construction of the USU Wright Flyer.

Larsen and Dave Widauf, USU engineering professor and director of the project, came up with the idea to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Wright Flyer and to bring some recognition to USU engineering programs. The project is supported in cooperation by the USU Mechanical and Aerospace and Industrial Technology departments, the USU Research Foundation and the Space Dynamics Laboratory.

Approximately 100 students, educators and community volunteers have labored between 8,000 and 10,000 man-hours to get the project off the ground, Larsen estimated. Industries throughout the United States donated many of the materials and parts used to construct the USU Wright Flyer, he said.

From those who designed drawings to those who assembled and built the aircraft, the students were invaluable on this project, Larsen said. He also expressed appreciation for a group of 10 to 15 retirees who "put heart and soul" into the construction of the replica, particularly in the last few months.

"They are all volunteers, even the students. I just want to pay some honor to them, give them the glory because they're the ones who've really done it," Larsen said. "It's been a tremendous project. I can't even find a word that expresses my feelings about how exciting it is."

Logan resident James Call, 34, a machinist by trade and a sophomore in the program at USU, estimates that he's logged nearly 800 hours on the project and his wife, Michelle, donated another 200 hours to sew the material which covers the plane's wings.

"I've learned that, even with the modern materials and machines that we have today, it's still a challenge to build an aircraft of this type the way the Wright Brothers built the aircraft," Call said.

Team members waited anxiously for the pilot's reports after the first few flights. USU aviation program alum Wayne Larsen of Tremonton was selected to run trials on the plane because of his experience. Larsen operates an aeronautical business in Brigham City that provides flight instruction, crop dusting and aerial photography. Larsen said he has flown trial runs on several homebuilt planes in the past but has never flown anything like the USU Wright Flyer.

"He flew it several times and parked it, and we haven't touched it," Call said. The decision was made to put an oil cooler on the plane early Wednesday morning, he said, but no adjustments to the flight controls were required. "He said that's the first time that's ever happened."

The most emotional moment for Call came after the pilot landed the USU Wright Flyer after a few test flights and returned Call's American flag with a handshake. The symbol, folded into a triangle and tucked into the leg of the pilot's jumpsuit, symbolized the connection between the Wright Brothers and the people today.

Dave Norton, chief executive officer of the USU Research Foundation, was on hand to see the replica fly. This project exemplifies the brilliance of the Wright Brothers and how far scientific discoveries have come, he said.

"I love those early discoverers and how true they were and how close they were," he said.

The replica will be transported in a trailer throughout the state of Utah in April and May, where it will used as a tool to educate and excite people of all ages about engineering and Utah State, Widauf said. Later this summer, the USU Wright Flyer will head to Dayton, Ohio, home of the Wright Brothers, where it will be showcased at the 100th anniversary celebration of powered flight. A highlight of this event will be the opportunity to fly the USU Wright Flyer at Huffman Prairie Flying Field outside of Dayton, where the Wright Brothers conducted most of their test flight operations, Widauf said.

"We'll be the first aircraft to ever fly at Huffman Prairie since the Wright Brothers. Now that's pretty historic," he said.

Jake Garn, a former astronaut and state senator from 1974 to 1993, has agreed to fly the USU Wright Replica at the 100th anniversary celebration this summer. Garn said he hopes to share the controls with his former political and space colleague, John Glenn. Garn said he loves to fly anything he can get in the air, but the opportunity to be a part of this project is a great honor.

"A lot of people around Utah do not understand that the USU engineering school and Space Dynamics Laboratory are superior. They're known all over the country. They're just not that well known in Utah," he said. "The composite work and engineering on this is really amazing. It's a beautiful machine. It doesn't surprise me that they have the capability of producing this remarkable replica."

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