FLYING A 1911 WRIGHT ‘B’ FLYER

I just want to share an experience I had in September of this year. I traveled to Dayton, Ohio, to see a replica of the 1911 Wright “B” Flyer aircraft and the museum that is at the Dayton Wright Bros. Airport. I understood that under certain conditions there was a chance of flying in the Wright Flyer, and that made the 900-mile trip worth it.

I had an appointment to see the aircraft, and fly in it on Sept. 27, so we arrived the evening before, just to be sure. The next morning was foggy and rainy, which was something they had not had for almost two months. I was glad for them but then thought maybe this might be a deal breaker as the weather did not give much hope for improvement that morning. I went to the airport anyway and was met by some real nice people.

I am 65 years old and among the staff I felt like a child, as they were all in their 80s, even John Warlick, the pilot of the replica Wright Flyer, who was 82 years old. Mr. Warlick had designed the replica in 1973, and was able to use engineering students at a local college to refine the design for him. The Wright Flyer lookalike has a modern engine, a Lycoming four-cylinder; is steel instead of bamboo; and has steel cables for safety. He first flew it in 1983. As a point of interest, I saw the real Wright Flyer the next day at the Air Force Museum in Dayton and I can assure you the modern changes they made on the lookalike were really needed. I would not have wanted to fly in the original design.

The Wright Flyer is a big airplane with an almost 38-foot wing span, and overall much more complex than I had thought for a 1911 Wright Flyer, refined or not. Both the original and the lookalike use chain-driven counter-rotating propellers, lots of cables, pulleys, bellcranks,and other things that made it have so much drag it would glide like a car going off a cliff. He told me he had experienced five unscheduled landings — AKA crashes!

Thoughts of another unscheduled landing with me on board faded away when I climbed onto the airplane, and I mean ON the airplane. You climb up a step ladder, then onto the seat. As we taxied out, it is hard to imagine the feeling I had. My background was Piper J-3s to jets, and almost everything in between, but here I was on a Wright Flyer about to fly, and the pilot told me that after we were airborne, I could fly it. Wow!

Takeoff was at about 45 mph, and seemed smooth for the initial climb. Just after that he tapped me on the shoulder, which meant for me to go ahead and take the controls. There I was, after all the other aircraft I have flown, flying a Wright Flyer — what a rush! It flies like a boat at slow speed, really slow to respond to control input. Too soon we were ready to land, and John took over with me following through as he instructed me to do. Landing was smooth and, of course, I wished I could just take it out by myself and enjoy, but at least I did it. I flew an aircraft that was close to the real Wright Flyer — now that’s something to have in the logbook. I add this to my experience of flying a DC-3, a Trimotor Ford aircraft and others I have been lucky enough to fly.

Since I took my first ride from a grass airport east of Alva, Okla., at the ripe old age of three weeks — and I do have a picture of that — to now reflecting on this latest experience of flight at age 65 years, still a flight instructor and commercial pilot, I realize how lucky I have been doing things others only dream of.

One of the things I would pass along was written by Wilbur Wright: “If you want to be perfectly safe, sit on the fence and watch the birds.” You just have to take a risk sometimes to achieve your dreams.

Another item of interest: My grandmother’s maiden name was Wright, but that’s another story.

TERRY STRICKLAND

Strickland Aviation, Inc.

Alva, Okla.

Speak Your Mind

*