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Beaming up the Wright Flyer

by Anne Corwin

February 10, 1999

I think I'm about ready to start having nightmares. Exactly ten days from now, the Wright Flyer will be lifted from the low-bay (like a garage) where it is currently being stored into the 40x80 foot wind tunnel. Like I said in my last entry, I put together the rigging plan (I located equipment and calculuated critical measurements for the lift-in) for the flyer, and I'm hoping that my measurements weren't off by any significant factor; that could spell disaster! My work WILL be checked over, but still, I can't help but obsess over things like, "What if one of the cables is two inches too long?" and "What if I didn't get the correct angle on something?" I guess any feat of engineering that involves manipulating objects in the real world rather than simply on paper or on a computer involves some degree of risk. I think my numbers came out fine, but nonetheless, it's a bit frightening.

For the most part, however, I'm just excited. I've said this a million times, but I feel so fortunate to be able to take part in this project. (I'm afraid it will be sort of a let-down when the whole thing is over!) I'm even passing up a ski trip at Lake Tahoe so that I can stay here for the lift in--this will be a once in a lifetime experience, whereas I'm sure many other ski trips will come my way.

Lately, my work as far as the Wright Flyer Project goes has consisted mainly of looking over all my drawings, making sure what I have is in order, and of trying to figure out the best way to align the model in the tunel using a device called a laser level.

The laser level is a stocky, black, cylindrical object a little over a foot long and having about an eight-inch radius. It produces two laser beams: one rotates around fast so that it creates a sheet, or a plane, of light. You can orient this plane horizontally or vertically, depending on what you need to use the device for. The other beam is a single beam that does not spin: it simply produces a line exactly perpendicular to the surface of the sheet of light. ("Perpendicular" means an up-down line standing straight on a right-left line, the way the stem of the letter T relates to the top bar.) You can pick a "reference" mark with which to align the laser, and then use this to make sure none of the parts of whatever you are building or setting up are crooked. If you were to set up a model and its initial angles were not what they were supposed to be, the data taken during the test could come out all wrong.

Working here sometimes reminds me of the labs I do in my physics class at school: just this past Monday night, my classmates and I had to figure out how to use a device called an oscilloscope. We were given a diagram that had labels on all the buttons on the front...there were over fifty of them! It was fun playing with all the controls, because the oscilloscope has a little screen on it that shows what different voltages, currents, and radio waves look like visually. We used the oscilloscope to measure the voltage of a C battery: the package said the battery was 1.5 volts, and when we put little probes on the positive and negative sides of the battery, a line appeared on the screen about 1.4 units up from the "zero" line, indicating that the battery had perhaps been used, but that we were indeed seeing a representation of its internal potential.

Well, the whole point of that little tangent was that work (where I'm doing what I would consider to be relatively simple engineering tasks) and school (where I'm being trained to be an engineer) both emphasize and demonstrate the importance of being able to approach, become familiar with, and use a certain piece of equipment. Being able to interpret instruction manuals is a vital skill in the workplace. (It's important in the home, too, but I STILL can't program a VCR, even at the advanced age of twenty! :))

So altogether, I'll be quite busy over the course of the next week and a half or so. I hope all of you can check out the live video feed of the lift in!


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