Students celebrate Wrights' genius with replica of Flyer

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A full-scale replica of the Wright Flyer 1, built entirely by 18 engineering students from the Ecole Superieure des Techniques Aeronautiques et de Construction Automobile (ESTACA) is on display in Hall 3, Stand F4-2.

The replica is being shown as part of this year's centennial commemoration of manned flight, and is being sponsored by landing gear specialist Messier-Dowty. The project is the brainchild of 21-year-old student Guillaume Bullin, a third-year science student at the Paris institute.

"I've always been working with wood and as a teenager I began to build some planes and gliders," he says. "I've wanted to build a plane and with the centenary of flight I became interested in building the Flyer."

The students used a variety of source material, including documents at Le Bourget's Musee de l'Air et Space, 3D plans from 1927 by Wilbur Wright, and Internet sites devoted to the Flyer to learn the construction techniques employed by Wilbur and Orville Wright.

The materials used were all chosen with historical accuracy in mind; wood, fabric and bicycle mechanisms are predominant.

Construction of the replica began in December 2002 with $3,000 seed money from the school, says its director Eric Parlebas. Messier-Dowty came into the picture later and "our dream came true thanks to them."

So far around $25,000 has been spent on the project, while the students have put in about 18,000h building the aircraft.

The wings were constructed separately in six sections. To curve the wooden ribs without breaking them, Bullin and his colleagues used a curing stove to heat the wood to the ideal temperature. Friends and family were recruited to help sew the canvas to the wings.

The team's intention is to fly their Wright Flyer on 17 December, the 100th anniversary of the first powered flight, says Bullin. However, adds Parlebas, to do this, ESTACA needs to find more financial partners to help with certification, insurance and other expenses.

Airworthy

Possible flight sites include the Normandy beaches of northern France, although if enough money is raised a trip over to North Carolina to fly the replica at Kitty Hawk is not out of the question.

A few minor adjustments to the aircraft will be needed to make it fully airworthy, such as strengthening the engine and propeller mountings, but essentially the replica is ready to take to the air, says Bullin.