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Quest Aero Chat with Nick Engler

December 11, 2002

photo of Nick's team flying the 1902 Wright Glider at Kitty Hawk

Flying the 1902 Wright Glider at Kitty Hawk -- October 2002
Photo courtesy of Nick Engler

[ Lori/QuestChatHost - 139 - 17:14:21 ]
Welcome to NASA Quest! This chat room has been set up for a web chat with Nick Engler. Director and Chief Builder of the The Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company, Nick takes from his historic knowledge to build and fly Wright airplanes in order to gain a better understanding of the innovative thinking of the Wright brothers. Please be sure to read Nick's bio prior to the events at: <http://quest.arc.nasa.gov/people/bios/aero/englern.html>.

[ Lori/QuestChatHost - 140 - 17:16:31 ]
You may go ahead and place questions in the chat room now to be answered during the web chat. Please don't post test messages or repeats -- though you may not see your question, it is in the chat room. Again, PLEASE do not repeat your questions. If you can't be here live for the web chat, you can read the archive later to see the answer to your question.

[ Lori/QuestChatHost - 141 - 17:17:48 ]
ALSO -- the Name/Location bar IS NOT working properly, so PLEASE identify yourself in the body of your question. For example -- Nancy/Ms.Wilson's 6thgrade/TX - How many years were you an astronaut? REMEMBER -- don't give your last name (or city or anything too personal). ENJOY THE EVENT :-)

[ Lori/QuestChatHost - 144 - 16:45:26 ]
We will begin our chat with Nick in about 15 minutes :-)

[ Nick - 145 - 16:55:57 ]
Hi, folks! I'm Nick Engler, an aviation archaeologist and the director of the Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company. For the past four years, I've been running an expedition in "new" archaeology to study the birth of aviation. New archaeology is a discipline where you recreate a historical event as closely as possible to "fill in the holes" in the historical record -- learn things that history can't tell you. And there are many things we don't know about the Wright brothers. So we are creating all SIX of the aircraft the Wright brothers built between 1899 and 1905 in their quest for a practical airplane. Then we are flying these planes and studying their performance much as a modern test pilot would do. In fact, this last October, the United States Army, Navy, and Air Force loaned us four pilots - two test pilots and two instructor pilots -- just to do this. We flew the fourth aircraft in the series, the 1902 Wright Glider. This was perhaps the most important airplane the Wright brothers ever made because this was the first airplane to be FULLY CONTROLLABLE -- and those controls were the so-called "Secret of Flight." Everything that flies today is descended from this primitive flying machine, and it was an awesome experience to fly it. Now we are just finishing up our 1903 Flyer. We hope to fly that this Spring. If it's successful, we may actually take it to the middle of the Pacific Ocean and fly it from the flight deck of the USS Kitty Hawk aircraft carrier.

[ Lori/QuestChatHost - 146 - 17:01:25 ]
Welcome Nick!! We are so glad you could chat with us today!

[ Nick - 152 - 17:06:29 ]
RE: Mr. Engler, why did you want to start the Wright Brothers projects. When is the entire process going to be finished? Do you think the airplanes will be safe enough for the pilots to fly.
We hope to finish up studying all six aircraft by July 2003. And yes, we are trying to be as safe as possible. In test piloting, this is called risk management, and the Wright brothers were very good at it. We are following closely in their footsteps to keep the risk as low as possible.

[ Nick - 154 - 17:09:05 ]
RE: Erin / What colleges that teach aviation archeology or Industrial Archaeology as a major?
There are no colleges that I know of that specifically teach aviation archaeology-- it's a very new field. However, almost all colleges with a good archaeology department can prepare you for a career in industrial archaeology. Find yourself an author in industrial archaeology whom you like -- chances are he or she probably teachs somewhere. Then go to that college. By the way, I teach at Sinclair University in Dayton, Ohio.

[ Nick - 156 - 17:10:46 ]
RE: Andrew/Homeschooled/OK-How does it feel to be involved in things about the wright brothers, the two people who took us to the skies?
Recently, a reported asked me if I ever felt that the Wright brothers were peeking over my shoulder. I replied, no, but that I felt as if I were peeking over the shoulders of the Wright brothers. And I feel exactly as you would -- extremely honored to be doing so.

[ Nick - 157 - 17:11:45 ]
RE: In your bio, u say you r a pilot – what types of planes do you fly?
I fly "light" aircraft. I own a little Piper Cherokee 140. It flies low and slow, but I've traveled thousand of miles in it. It's a good friend.

[ Nick - 160 - 17:13:26 ]
RE: Do you do your flight tests in the same places the Wrights did? – Cruz, San Antonio
Yes, we do. In fact that's something that the Air Force suggested to us when they began loaning us test pilots. They want us to repeat these experiments in the same geographical locations as the Wright brothers. So far, this has meant going to Kitty Hawk for each test. Next year, we're hoping they will open up Huffman Prairie near Dayton, Ohio for us to test our 1905 Flyer.

[ Nick - 163 - 17:15:20 ]
RE: How did you get interested in making the Wright Brother's planes?
I used to write books about building things -- I wrote 52 books on woodworking. Then I became a pilot and began to think about building an airplane. And since I'm from Dayton, Ohio -- the home of the Wright Brothers -- well, it just seemed natural to me to build a Wright airplane. It was a good friend, historian Louis Chmiel, who suggested to me that I should build all six of the Wrights' experimental aircraft and study them.

[ Nick - 165 - 17:20:47 ]
RE: What do you mean the controls were the secret of flight?
Many people think that the Wright brothers "invented the airplane" or were the "first to fly." Neither of these things are true, and Will and Orv would be the first to say so. The Wrights themselves gave credit to Hiram Maxim for making the first takeoff in 1893. Trouble was, Hiram couldn't control his aircraft. It just crashed along through the English countryside going where it wanted to until they shut down the steam engine. That same year, Otto Lilienthal became the first person to make successful flights in a glider, but these too were poorly controlled. All Lilienthal could do was shift his weight to make the glider go where he wanted it to go. The Wright brothers figured out that an airplane had to have three separate controls -- ROLL (tilt right and left), PITCH (nose up and down) and YAW (swing nose right and left) to navigate an airplane. They made the first fully controlled glider flight with roll, pitch, and yaw controls in 1902, then the first controlled powered flight in 1903.

[ Nick - 167 - 17:21:15 ]
RE: RooShee/ How long did it take the Wright Brother's to develop their ideas for the first flying machine?
2230 days -- Just over six years.

[ Nick - 168 - 17:22:11 ]
RE: What is your favorite type of flying machine? Have you wridden in it?
1940 Cabin WACO -- no, but I'm still hoping. Actually, I'm hoping to restore one after I finish up all the Wright brothers' airplanes.

[ Nick - 171 - 17:25:16 ]
RE: Do you still learn new things from their old technology, as you re create what they did over & over?
Good question -- and the answer is yes. We learn a great deal about how these two geniuses, Orville and Wilbur Wright, thought through a problem. This, in turn, teaches us how we might do the same. For example, there was an earlier question about safety. WE learned a lot about risk management from studying the methods of the Wright brothers. Our modern-day test pilot programs for aircraft like the F-22 Raptor are based on how the Wright brothers proceeded in their own experiments.

[ Nick - 172 - 17:28:44 ]
RE: James/7th/Mr. Johnson -- How much did it cost to build your model of the Wright flyer? Which version is it?
We are building two Flyers -- the 1903 and the 1905. Both will cost us over $100,000 to make because we're doing them exactly as the Wright brothers would have done, down to the cloth on the wings. And that figure doesn't include the many, many people who have donated time and materials to us. The folks who fit the castings for the engines, for example -- Northern Machinery of Sanford, Maine -- did about $75,000 worth of work to recreate them, then only charged us for the metal they poured -- about $5000. If it weren't for the kindness of people like these, the airplanes might have cost us three times as much.

[ Nick - 173 - 17:30:19 ]
RE: How often do you fly the Wright Flyers?
We have been traveling to Kitty Hawk two or three times a year to fly our gliders. This year, we will begin to fly much more often. We will do our preliminary flight research at WACO field just north of Dayton, then take the aircraft either to Kitty Hawk or Huffman Prairie.

[ Nick - 175 - 17:33:07 ]
RE: RooShee/ Has anyone ever been seriously hurt in one of the test runs of the planes?
No. The pilots get some ugly bruises around their waist and thighs where they slam into the hip cradle on a hard landing. Orv and Will complained about these same sorts of bruises -- this is why they padded the hip cradles on their Flyers. Once, our 1902 glider stalled and came down and flattened one of the people who was helping to launch, but he was okay in a day or two -- nothing broken, just a bad jolt. About the worst that ever happened was last year when I plowed headfirst into a sand dune and needed eight stitches to close a cut on my forehead. Wilbur had a similar experience in 1901.

[ Nick - 179 - 17:36:39 ]
RE: RooShee/ What different modifications did you make on the plane than the Wright Brothers did?
We try to make as few modifications as possible. However, we have made some changes to make our aircraft portable. The Wright brothers weren't concerned with portability. They made the parts in Dayton, shipped them to Kitty Hawk, put the airplanes together, and then left them in Kitty Hawk for the most part. We have to ship ours around the country, so we make them able to come apart and fit in a trailer. However, the aerodynamics of each glider and Flyer is exactly the same as when the Wright brothers built them.

[ Nick - 180 - 17:37:26 ]
RE: Natasha, Mo.- How large is your flyer?
The 1903 and 1905 Flyers are 40 feet from wing tip to wing tip -- the same as the Wright brothers airplanes. All our craft are full scale.

[ Nick - 182 - 17:40:28 ]
RE: Jesse / What kind of new aviation technology is on the horizon?
I think the BIG thing that's on the horizon is UAVs. That stands for Unmanned Air Vehicles. These are remote-controlled airplanes that we can send into dangerous conditions where we wouldn't want to risk a pilot. We are already using UAVs called "Global Hawks" in Afghanistan. And we are developing UAVs that have just a 4-inch wingspan that may someday be issued as standard equipment to soldiers, just like rifles.

[ Nick - 185 - 17:43:37 ]
RE: Do you use wind tunnels?
Yes. We are committed to reproducing ALL of the Wright brothers experiments between 1899 and 1905, and this includes their wind tunnel work. We just completed the wind tunnel tests last year and your can read about them on our web site. In fact, we discovered a new piece on the famous "lift and drift" balances that the Wright brothers made that no one knew existed. This piece was an ingenious indicator that allowed them to be incredibly accurate.

[ Lori/QuestChatHost - 186 - 17:44:36 ]
Great questions coming in! We have about 15 minutes left to chat with Nick.

[ Nick - 187 - 17:45:25 ]
RE: Did any of the early Wright Brothers flying machines have engines?
The first four Wright aircraft that they made between 1899 and 1902 were gliders. They did not have engines. They did not add an engine until 1903. Bit it was their glider work that taught them how to fly. They wouldn't have been successful with their powered airplanes if they hadn't first built and flown the gliders.

[ Nick - 189 - 17:46:19 ]
RE: Paul >>Which Wright brother was your favorit & why?
I don't play favorites. They were a team, and I am honored to be following in the footsteps of the Wright team.

[ Nick - 191 - 17:51:13 ]
RE: Jeff/9th - Has recreating the wright bros. innovation helped NASA & others to be more innovative & if so HOW?
First of all, the Wright's discovery and development of 3-axis control -- roll, pitch, and yaw -- made aviation possible. There wouldn't be any NASA or NASA innovations without the Wright brothers. In that sense, everything that NASA does is building on the Wright brothers' work. And second, I think that just the story of the Wright brothers has inspired many, many pilots and engineers. As Americans, we were lone underdogs, and the Wright brothers were the quintessential underdogs -- unfunded, unconnected, inexperienced -- and yet they overcame all of that with hard work, intelligence, and courage. That sort of lifestyle is almost a theme at NASA and the Air Force.

[ Nick - 194 - 17:55:25 ]
RE: RooShee/ How fast has your modeled planes flown?
We have a 1/12 radio-controlled model of the 1903 Wright Flyer that model-designer Pat Tritle has built for us. It flies at about 8 miles per hour. The full-size Flyer will fly at about 30 miles per hour. The 1902 glider flies at about 18 miles per hour.

[ Nick - 195 - 17:56:38 ]
RE: Sara = Can you expailn why Orville & Wilbur were able to do what they did with so little money when Langley couldn’t succeed with all the money he had?
I believe very strongly that too much money can sometimes be an impediment to progress. Lack of money forces you to seek creative solutions to problems that other people can throw money at. The Wright brothers had to be very, very creative just to hope to compete with Langely. So they focused on the problem at hand, intelligently analyzed the problems they encountered, and came up with simple, effective solutions where Langely was coming up with overly-complex, ineffective, and expensive answers. Had Langely had a little less money, he might have been better off.

[ Nick - 197 - 18:00:06 ]
RE: You mentioned Charlie Furnas was the first airplane passenger. What did he ride in & can you explain a little about his adventure And what led up tp it? Thanks - Annie
Charlie Furnas was a native of my home town -- West Milton. He was the very first person ever to ride in an airplane. He helped Wilbur and Orville build their airplanes at a time when they had no money. But they needed two airplanes to demonstrate -- one in France, and the other in America for the US Army. They took their 1905 Flyer to Kitty Hawk and Charlie helped them rebuild it as a two-person airplane without ever asking for a dime. To pay him back for his kindness, they gave him the first ride as a passenger. By the way, Charlie was among the few to fly with BOTH Wilbur and Orville. You can read about this adventure on our web site.

[ Nick - 198 - 18:00:48 ]
RE: RooShee/ What was the farthest that your model planes have flown?
Our 1902 glider flew about 400 feet over the ground this last time in Kitty Hawk.

[ Nick - 199 - 18:02:10 ]
Lori tells me that's all the time we have. Those were some good questions, guys. Thanks.

[ Lori/QuestChatHost - 200 - 18:05:13 ]
Thanks for joining us today!! Join us for our webcast on Thursday and our chat with the Wright Brothers next week on Dec. 17. Have a great day :-)


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