The Thrill of Invention

A dedicated craftsman explores the invention of the airplane by recreating its predecessors.

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Though there have been a few replicas of the 1902 glider over the years, Rick Young's is the most accurate and the only one that has carried a pilot aloft. Originally constructed in 1980, the glider has appeared in so many films over the past 17 years that it qualifies as a historic object in its own right. It has been refurbished, recovered, and rebuilt so often that virtually nothing remains of the original.

It was originally constructed with the single-vane rudder linked to the wing warping system, representing the aircraft as flown during most of the 1902 tests. When flown for the WGBH film crew last year, Young substituted the twin-vane rudder installed in 1903.

Young's glider has had a much longer career than the original, but it has not come close to matching the Wright brothers' record for either distance or time in the air. That is almost certainly because Young's glider has been flown only at Jockey's Ridge, where the best slopes for long glides can seldom be used because of the wind direction. The Kill Devil Hills, although not as tall as Jockey's Ridge, offered longer slopes facing into the wind. There is every indication that under similar conditions, Young's glider would fly as far and remain aloft as long as the original.

Substantial problems remained as the brothers developed a practical flying machine during the years 1903 to 1905, but the core of their achievement was in place with the end of the 1902 glider trials. Had Wilbur and Orville Wright stopped at that point, they would still have to be regarded as the most significant figures in the story of the airplane's development. The Wrights had one failing: They did not preserve the historic craft that brought them to the brink of the invention of the airplane. Rick Young has brought the gliders, and the process of invention, back to life for us.

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