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My trip to the 1903 Wright Flyer AIAA Engine Test

by Craig Hange

March 21, 1998

Engine Test  When I showed up at the Able Corp. warehouse I found many of the team members at work already. They worked most of the morning getting the motor and chain drives ready. Would the propellers spin freely or would the chain bind up in a mechanism whose design was just too old? The Wright brothers were known for using sound engineering principles and everybody there was betting that it would work fine.
 Jack Cherne, the AIAA Project Chairman, watches the electric motor intently as it runs for more than an hour. The "pistol" in his hands is either an infrared sensor, used to measure the temperature of the propeller shaft bearings, or a strobe, which is used to measure the revolutions per minute (RPM) of the shafts. Engine Test
Wings Down  Another view of the crew intently watching the temperature level on the motor and shaft bearings.
 Ed Marin is holding the Strobe pistol in this photo. Notice that my camera's shutter speed was very fast. How do you tell? In this photo the propeller is visible, although somewhat blurred. Had I been able to use an even faster shutter speed, the propeller would have appeared stopped. Ruddar
Engine Test  That propeller is doing about 700 RPM or almost 12 passes every second. No wonder it's blurry.
 With Walt Watson looking on, we're nearing the end of the one-hour test. Everyone is still keeping an eye on the temperatures and RPM, although they're a bit more relaxed now. This picture was taken with a slower shutter speed, the propeller is nearly invisible. Engine Test
Engine Test  Bob Sechrist and Ed Marin are tweaking the electric motor controls a bit while Jack Cherne takes a temperature measurement of the drive chain.
 No, Jack isn't alone in this photo. It's just that the Wright Flyer has so many pieces, it managed to block out just about everyone standing near it. The dark lighting and their dark blue coveralls don't help the lighting situation either. Engine Test
Engine Test  I climbed on top of a ladder nearby to get a picture from the top. The manufacturer that made the fabric covering the wings on this replica was the original manufacturer for the Wright Flyer and they used the same specifications that they used for the original Wright Flyer. The chain drive is also made from original castings.

The power test ran quite well. The motor ran smoothly and the chain drive performed flawlessly once a couple of kinks were worked out. The next test will need to be a similar run once it gets to Ames and gets re-assembled. We'll also need to keep our eyes open to see how the system works once we get the model mounted to the test sting that will go into the tunnel. On the sting the model will have more freedom to bend and flex than it did while sitting solidly on the floor.


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