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Exploring the Wright Flyer

by Jim Stevenson

April 14, 1999

Jim's interview is available in streaming audio. To listen to it you need to have Real Player installed on your computer. From the download site linked below look for the reference to the free RealPlayer. Once you have located the form that allows you to download the software, the information that you provide will instruct the server to provide you with the appropriate version of software for your computer and connection to the Internet.

Once you have installed the free player, you can hear the interview with Jim Stevenson. What follows is the text transcript of the interview.

I have been interested in aviation since I came to NASA twenty-five years ago. I have read a lot of books on aerodynamics and the equations of flight. I have had the opportunity to explore a lot of models.

I read an article quite a few years ago in Scientific American about the Wright Flyer. I had forgotten some of the details I had forgotten that the canard was in front, and that the pilot just lies on the wings next to the engine.

The Wright Flyer is very unstable. I am amazed that any one could fly it. With the control surfaces in front and the awkwardness of the control surfaces and the engine drive system is far from optimal. It's an engine driving two propellers with bicycle chains rather than a faster engine driving the shaft of the propeller. I was surprised how big the Wright Flyer was, with its forty-foot wingspan.

I had touched cloth biplanes before that part wasn't new to me. The layout of the control surface and the engine layout were the big surprises to me.

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