After a thorough cleaning, the replica of the 1903 Wright Flyer that revolutionized human flight will return to its home at the Dayton International Airport.
The Centennial Flyer’s owner and builder, Nick Engler of the Wright Brothers Aeroplane Co., removed it July 10 per the airport’s request to clean it and make a few tweaks that would give it some of the parts of the original flyer that Wilbur and Orville Wright used to make aviation history at Kitty Hawk.
Some in the community have questioned if it would return, but Engler and airport officials confirmed Tuesday it would return.
The flyer will come back to the airport’s atrium with a swatch of fabric sewn into its wings from the very same plane that carried the Wright brothers on the first heavier-than-air piloted machine to complete a controlled, sustained flight. Struts from the 1913 Wright Model G — the last plane that the brothers worked on together before Wilbur’s death — will reinforce the replica’s wings.
The nesting place for the flyer in the airport also will get some renovations: a new harness will allow the airport to change the angle and height of the flyer’s display, reminding passengers of the ancestor of the jumbo jets they board.
Engler said some have proposed filling the replica’s place with a model unmanned aerial vehicle — sometimes called a drone. To that he said, “It’s hard to know where you are if you don’t know where you’ve been.”
The 88 ribs that give the machine its shape and hold the fabric of the wings come with something that wasn’t on the original flyer: the signatures of hundreds of school children who helped assemble the ribs for the replica. In thirty-four states and five countries, schools incorporated STEM programs with aerodynamics and flight history curriculum designed by Engler, and they sent the ribs back in return.
“I have a promise I made a long time ago to 300 children,” Engler said.
Marcus Petitjean, director of Russia High School’s technology department, heard about the WBAC project in 2002 and decided his sixth graders could not only contribute some ribs, but also design their own model. They took their model 1902 Glider to Kitty Hawk, where Engler said the students flew with more grace than some of the military pilots who tried their hand at it.
At the 2003 opening ceremony for the Centennial Flyer, the students saw their fruit of their labor. “They didn’t know what they were building in the sixth grade. They were amazed at how the pieces fit together,” Petitjean said.
The airport is still waiting on a proposal from Engler with a contract and cost estimate. Engler predicted the instruments needed to regulate tension of the suspension cables would cost the city about $30,000, but Linda Hughes of the Dayton Airport said they’ve yet to see a detailed cost breakdown.
“The past and the present and future can all exist simultaneously,” Hughes said. “It’s our heritage and you’ll see it throughout our airport.”