1901 Wright Glider (reproduction)

The second of the Wright Brothers’ series of gliders was made in 1901 and was an enlarged version of their 1900 glider, with its design based heavily on the research notes of early aeronautical pioneer Otto Lilienthal.

The glider’s construction took place at the Wrights’ workshop in Dayton, Ohio. Metal fittings were based on simple forging techniques used in manufacturing bicycles. The wires that held the glider together were of the same material used in making bicycle spokes. The elevator was placed forward of the wing and lateral control of the glider was accomplished by wing warping. Final preparations were made, and the brothers left for Kitty Hawk, North Carolina to test their plane.

The arduous trip was an adventure itself. It started with a day-long train ride from Dayton to Norfolk, Virginia. From Norfolk, it was a steam boat ride to Elizabeth City, North Carolina. The next leg of the journey was on a flat-bottom sail boat to the docks at Kitty Hawk. This leg took less than a day, but passengers might have to wait several days for a local boat captain to be available. Once at the docks of Kitty Hawk, it was a three mile walk through the sand to the camp site. Due in large part to the lack of a vertical surface, the 1901 craft was difficult to control and it also had poor lifting characteristics. It made its longest flight on August 8, 1901, covering a distance of 389 feet and lasting 17 seconds.

In the end, the Wrights concluded that Lilienthal’s findings were flawed, inspiring them to build a wind tunnel and to begin work on what was to become their improved and historic 1902 glider.

The Museum’s reproduction wright 1901 glider was built by volunteers at the Gillespie Field facility from 2002 to 2003. Its construction was led and funded by Museum volunteer Frank Allen. Authentic materials were used whenever possible; but this sometimes proved to be a challenge, as in the wire used for bracing the wings. They chose piano wire of the correct diameter and material, but it was much too stiff to be formed. Working with a volunteer metallurgist, the wire was heat-tempered to soften it enough to be pliable, but not enough to cause it to lose its tensile strength. The process was a success, and the 1901 glider reproduction was part of the 2003 celebration of the 100th anniversary of powered flight.

San Diego Air & Space Museum

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