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The Wind Tunnel

The experiments of 1901 convinced the Wrights that Lilienthal's data for curved airfoils were wrong. More careful measurements had confirmed the result found in 1900 that the predicted lift was too large. Beginning in the fall of 1901 the brothers carried out a lengthy series of tests in a wind tunnel.

Theirs was not the first wind tunnel or even the first in the U.S. They probably got the idea from articles in Aeronautical Annual, which was published by James Means in Boston in the years 1895-97. The contribution of the Wrights was characteristically to the point. They recorded accurate data for many airfoils and wing shapes. They did not make absolute measurements but rather compared the forces acting on an airfoil with those acting on a flat plate oriented perpendicular to the airstream. As a result of their tests they had by midwinter all the data they would need to design their aircraft for the next decade.

The Wrights also decided on the basis of their own data that Lilienthal's measurements were not as inaccurate as they had initially believed. For their predictions of lift on their gliders they had needed a constant (related to the drag on a flat plate), which had been inferred from the data published by Smeaton. By comparing the wind-tunnel findings with the measurements of lift on their gliders the Wrights determined that the value of the constant was wrong. The error had caused them to overestimate the lift by 40 percent.

On August 28, 1902, the Wrights arrived again at Kill Devil Hills with another glider. This model had a span of 32 feet and a chord of five feet, so that its total area and wing loading were about the same as those of the 1901 glider. From the wind-tunnel tests the brothers had learned that a long, narrow wing, which has a higher aspect ratio, is more efficient than one with the same area but a shorter span. Their choice of cross section for the airfoil was also based on the wind-tunnel tests.

The 1902 machine was the first to include the hip cradle the brothers devised to enable the pilot in a prone position to operate the warping wires by shifting his hips laterally. The deflection of the horizontal surface was changed by operating a lever with the left hand.

The most obvious and important change of configuration was the addition of a double vertical tail. It had a total area of 12 square feet. This surface was rigidly mounted in the 1902 glider and was never intended for steering. The Wrights had figured out correctly that the vertical tail was needed to counteract the adverse yaw.

Tests of the glider as a kite showed the brothers they had a better airplane. They found that with the new wing they had a much-improved lift-drag ratio and that the difficulties with longitudinal control were reduced. Moreover, the fixed vertical tail did act to reduce the yawing tendency in a turn.

Initial glide tests showed an excessive response to side gusts, and so the wings were set with negative dihedral. Further testing showed that the 1902 glider gave the pilot even more trouble with lateral control than the 1901 machine had. When the glider was hit by a side gust, it had an uncontrollable tendency to oscillate in yaw. 1901 Glider

GLIDER OF 1901 was by far the largest glider anyone had tried to fly. It had a wingspan of 22 feet and a chord of seven feet; the weight without pilot was 98 pounds. In tests at Kitty Hawk, with Wilbur as the pilot, the glider at first followed a strongly undulating flight path. The Wrights modified the aircraft to reduce the camber they had added to the wings since 1900 and then found that it flew much better.

GLIDER OF 1902 provided the Wright brothers with most of their flying experience. It was the first of their aircraft to have the double vertical tail, which was added to compensate for the tendency of the craft to slew in a turn, and to include the hip cradle. The craft had a wingspan of 32 feet and a chord of five feet. The Wrights had learned from wind-tunnel tests that a long, narrow wing is more efficient than a shorter one with the same area. Another feature of the 1902 glider is that the wings are set in negative dihedral, that is, they droop.

1902 glider

Much more serious problems arose in several of the turns. Both brothers experienced the beginning of a spin in the direction of a turn. The stall-spin sequence in a turn has been estimated to be the cause of loss of control in 70 percent of all flying accidents. The Wright brothers were the first to discover it. They began a turn, say to the right, by warping the trailing edges down on the left wings and up on the right. The force acting on the vertical tail also tended to turn the airplane to the right, counteracting the adverse yaw. If the turn became too steep, the warping had to be reversed. This maneuver gave rise to adverse yaw acting in the same direction as the turning effect of the fixed vertical tail. For a short time the aircraft was therefore turned even more to the right: the beginning of a spin. It could also happen that excessive downward warping of the wings inside the turn would cause them to stall and drop. Several times the brothers found that this series of events ended when the wing that was inside on the turn dug into the sand and the airplane pivoted to a stop.

It was Orville's idea to correct the behavior by replacing the double fixed tail with a single movable one. Wilbur suggested that its operation should be tied to the warping wires; it therefore could not be operated alone. Nevertheless, a reversal of the warping also reversed the yawing tendency produced by the movable tail, and the net result was a significant reduction in the tendency to spin.

These various adjustments completed the configuration and the control system the brothers employed in the Flyer of 1903. Not until the end of 1904 did they disconnect the vertical tail and finally achieve independent control of pitch, roll and yaw. Virtually all modern aircraft depend on the same system of controls.

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