- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 17, 2003

KILL DEVIL HILLS, N.C. — One hundred years to the day after Orville and Wilbur Wright soared into history on man’s first powered flight, modern-day aviators sought to duplicate the feat, with a little help from 21st-century technology and supercomputers.

They flopped badly.

Pilot Kevin Kochersberger could not get the $1.2 million replica of the 1903 Wright Flyer airborne. He pulled hard on the front flaps to gain altitude, but instead the plane dropped off the end of a rail right into a mud puddle, its right wing jammed into the sand, a delicate crosswire snapped in two.

“Well, if this were easy, I guess everyone would do it,” said Tom Poberenzy, president of the Experimental Aircraft Association, a group of aviation enthusiasts who had a hand in building the painstakingly accurate reproduction.

After the ground-bound flight, Mr. Kochersberger, 42, a flight instructor and engineering professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology, hung his head in defeat. He appeared to be acutely aware that two self-taught bicycle mechanics from Dayton, Ohio — who hand-cut their own propellers using wheel spokes and hacksaw blades — had outsmarted the world’s savviest engineers.

Another attempt hours later to match the Wright brothers’ achievement was scrapped. To attempt the two flights, technicians had to try 23 times to get the two engines going.

But 40,000 rain-soaked flight fans at the event got a treat when Air Force One buzzed the Wright Brothers National Memorial, dipping a wing as it raced overhead at just 1,200 feet.

President Bush, who had delivered a speech minutes earlier at the anniversary event, looked down from his office cabin aboard the plane.

In his speech, the president noted that the brothers — who crashed their craft just four days before their historic flight — had overcome adversity, and the weather.

“On the day they did fly, just like today, the conditions were not ideal,” said Mr. Bush, a former National Guard pilot. “The Wright brothers hit some disappointments along the way. There must have been times when they had to fight their own doubts.

“They pressed on, believing in the great work they had begun and in their own capacity to see it through. We would not know their names today if these men had been pessimists.”

The attempt to match the Wright brothers’ achievement — which occurred at 10:35 a.m. on Dec. 17, 1903 — was delayed by several hours because of heavy downpours. After the rain, the strong breeze that had prompted the brothers to pick the spot gave way to a windless sky that offered modern-day pilots little chance of launching the replica flyer.

But the crew that constructed the plane, the Wright Experience of Warrenton, Va., decided to try to give the crowd what it came for: a re-creation of the Wrights’ 12-second, 120-foot flight.

Three hours after the first failed attempt, and after repairs to the engine and front wing assembly, organizers rolled the plane back out to its rail to wait for the winds to pick up.

Using a crew of Wright ancestors and descendants of the locals to move the plane into position, Mr. Kochersberger lay with his hands on the controls, waiting for a gust of wind that never came. The pilot, who had successfully flown the plane several times before yesterday’s attempt, shrugged with resignation as the team called it quits.

The reproduction — 605 pounds, with authentic spruce ribs and a wingspan of 40 feet — matched the brothers’ work down to the thread count of the muslin wing coverings.

And, in the end, the frustration the craft produced for the Wright brothers also proved to be historically accurate.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.


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