The Wright Glider was designed and built by the Wright Brothers. The Brothers developed a series of three manned gliders after preliminary tests with a kite as they worked towards achieving powered flight. They returned to glider testing in 1911 by removing the motor from one of their later airplane designs.
The 1899 kite had a wingspan of only 5 feet (1.5 m). This craft, although much too small to carry a pilot, tested the concept of wing-warping that would prove essential to the Brothers' solving the problem of controlled flight. It helped them find the concepts for their gliders.
The 1900 Wright Glider was the Wright Brothers' first glider capable of carrying a man. It was based on data from Otto Lilienthal's lift tables.It was designed and built to test their wing warping concept, first tested on the 1899 Wright Kite, and first flew on October 5, 1900, from Kitty Hawk. Initial tests were conducted without a pilot, and with the glider held down. Eventually a pilot was placed on board, and then free flights were made. It proved to be unforgiving, and on October 18, the glider was abandoned where it landed, before disappearing in a gale the following July.
The 1901 Wright Glider was the second of the Wright Brothers experimental gliders. It was similar to the 1900 version, but with larger wings. It first flew on July 27, 1901, and was retired on August 17. During this short time between 50 and 100 free flights were made, in addition to tethered flights as a kite.
There were problems with the wing ribs, which flexed under the weight of the pilot, distorting the aerofoil shapes of the wings. The brothers fixed the trouble, but the wings still produced much less lift than expected, and wing-warping sometimes made the glider turn opposite the intended direction. After testing concluded, the brothers stored the glider in their shed near Kitty Hawk. The shed and glider were badly damaged later by windstorms. The wing uprights were salvaged for the 1902 Glider, but the rest was abandoned.
As a result of lift and "drift" (drag) measurements taken with the tethered gliders, the brothers concluded that Lilienthal's data were inaccurate, and designed and built a wind tunnel to collect their own data.
The 1902 Wright Glider was the third free-flight glider built by Orville and Wilbur Wright and tested at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. This was the first of the brothers' gliders to incorporate yaw control, and its design led directly to the 1903 Wright Flyer.
The brothers designed the 1902 glider during the winter of 1901-1902 at their home in Dayton, Ohio. They designed the wing based on data from extensive airfoil tests conducted on a homemade wind tunnel. They built many of the components of the glider in Dayton, but they completed assembly at their Kitty Hawk camp in September 1902. They began testing on September 19. Over the next five weeks, they made between 700 and 1000 glide flights (as estimated by the brothers, who did not keep detailed records of these tests). The longest of these was 622.5 ft (189.7 m) in 26 seconds.
In 1903 when the brothers tested their powered machine, they brought the 1902 glider out of storage and flew it again to hone their piloting skills before the powered Flyer was ready. The glider went back into storage at the camp when the brothers returned home for Christmas. When they next visited Kitty Hawk in 1908 to test their improved Flyer III, the storage shed had collapsed and the glider inside was wrecked.
A number of replicas of the 1902 glider exist. Wright brothers historian Rick Young of Richmond, Virginia has built 9 accurate working replicas of all of the Wright gliders and the 1903 Flyer. Young's 1902 gliders have appeared in numerous films and television documentaries, including a 1986 IMAX On the Wing. One of his 1902 replicas is on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum's Wright Brothers gallery. The Virginia Aviation Museum at Richmond International Airport is home to the Wright 1899 Kite, the 1900, 1901 and 1902 gliders and the 1903 Flyer, all built by Young.
In 1911 Orville Wright returned to Kitty Hawk with a new glider, accompanied by his English friend Alec Ogilvie. Orville intended to test an automatic control system on the glider, but did not because of the presence of reporters (he eventually perfected the system in a powered airplane in 1913). The glider had what is now considered a 'conventional tailplane' rather than the front mounted elevator. The pilot also was seated with hand controls, rather than lying prone in a cradle, as with the original gliders. In a 65 km/h(40 mph) wind on October 24, 1911, Orville soared above Kill Devil Hill for 9 minutes 45 seconds, breaking the brothers' previous record of 1 minute 12 seconds set in 1903 with the 1902 glider. The new record stood for ten years, until broken in Germany.
Published - July 2009
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