NPR: Item, one heavier-than-air flying machine. Goods must be securely packed for shipment and delivered to Fort Myer, Virginia. The plane was purchased from the Wright Brothers of Dayton, Ohio. It arrived in later summer, was flown triumphantly, and crashed dramatically. That airplane has now been precisely reproduced. And NPR's Noah Adams got a look at it.
NOAH ADAMS: Fort Myer is across the river from Washington on the ridge above Arlington Cemetery. And tomorrow, there they'll have the Centennial of Military Aviation Celebration.
Orville Wright brought the flyer from Dayton on the train. He had two mechanics helping but not his brother. Wilbur was flying in France.
GREG CONE: It gives me goose bumps thinking about the nerve that Orville had. Well, Wilbur was doing the same thing in France. I mean the government engine that they had on that airplane, they had finished like the month before.
ADAMS: This is Greg Cone, an engine re-creator. I was talking with him this Wednesday evening, and he seemed calm, although he was minutes away from the first real test of his 1908 engine.
Greg works for the Wright Experience in Warrenton, Virginia.
Unidentified Man: (Unintelligible)
ADAMS: Greg Cone figures he has about three years invested in building this engine, doing the research. The Wrights used an innovative oiling system and a fuel injector.
CONE: And they were genius caliber when it came to cheating mean old Mr. Gravity. They were just able to cut the weight of the engine down to about 180 pounds.
ADAMS: If you want to get the dust off the fabric-covered wings of this biplane, hook up the air compressor and start spraying.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPRAYING)
ADAMS: It's Ken Hyde doing the chore. He's the airline pilot who retired into the restoration business. Hyde is meticulous, but doubts the Wrights would have bothered.
KEN HYDE: No, I don't think they really minded if it got dirty. You know, to them it was just a working machine and he poked a hole in it and he sewed it up, you know? So...
ADAMS: What is the fabric?
HYDE: It is probably the west muslin, it's one which was basically used for ladies petticoats.
(SOUNDBITE OF DOORS OPENING)
ADAMS: The crew slides back the hanger doors. They roll the plane out onto the grass. It's their intention to start the motor with all the chains hooked up to the twin propellers. The engine has been run before but that was a bench test. Now, the airplane could really come alive.
CONE: Switch is hot. (Unintelligible)
ADAMS: It's close to dark in a Virginia meadow. Some geese fly overhead. It's almost a salute. Two men stand ready to swing the propellers through. Greg Cone is at the engine. First, a test.
CONE: One, two, three.
(SOUNDBITE OF PROPELLERS)
CONE: Good right there. Want to go again?
ADAMS: And then it becomes real. The brand-new 1908 engine finds its own sound.
(SOUNDBITE OF ENGINE)
ADAMS: On September 3rd, a century ago, Orville Wright made the first military flight at Fort Myer - thirty-five feet in the air around the parade grounds. Lots of spectators and Army officers came to watch Orville fly, proving at last what the brothers said they had done five years earlier.
But then, the first fatal accident in a powered aircraft. A propeller split, the rudder jammed. The plane, Orville said, started straight for the ground. His passenger was Army First Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge, an observer. He died that night. Orville was badly hurt. The trials could not resume until the next summer.
(SOUNDBITE OF ENGINE)
ADAMS: The new Fort Myer flyer will be on static display tomorrow. They plan to run the engine, but there's no longer enough open space to fly. Someday, though, the Wright Experience crew might take this plane up just to check out their work.
Noah Adams, NPR News.
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