Wright stuff

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GRAHAM WARWICK / WASHINGTON DC. LISTING BY MICHAEL PHELAN / LONDON

Many industry events next year will share a theme: the celebration of 100 years of flight. For an industry in the doldrums, the centenary provides an opportunity to take pride in its achievements

Over the years, a steady stream of aviation pilgrims has visited Kitty Hawk, on the coast of North Carolina, to witness for themselves where it all began. Next year, the 100th anniversary of the Wright brothers' first flight, that stream is expected to swell to a flood.

At least a million people are expected to visit the Wright Brothers National Memorial next year, more than twice the number that normally make the journey to Kill Devil Hills on North Carolina's Outer Banks where, on 17 December 1903, Wilbur and Orville Wright achieved the first sustained, controlled heavier-than-air powered flight.

A year of celebrating the centennial of flight will culminate in the re-enactment of the Wright's first flights at Kill Devil Hills on 17 December 2003, using a painstakingly constructed reproduction of the 1903 Wright Flyer. But while the focus of the first flight celebration will be the sand dunes of Kitty Hawk, centennial events are planned across the USA and internationally throughout 2003.

In addition to specially organised events, most aerospace and aviation trade shows planned for next year will take on a centennial flavour. The biggest international event will be the Paris Air Show in June, but 2003 is also the year of the biennial Australian International Air Show (February) and Dubai Air Show (December). There are also shows planned in Mexico (Aero 03, January), India (Aero India, February), Taiwan (TATE, August), Russia (MAKS, August), China (Aviation Expo, September), South Korea (Seoul Air Show, October) and Malaysia (LIMA, December).

The first LABACE Latin American business aviation conference and exhibition, planned for March in Brazil, is hoping to repeat the growing success of the European EBACE show (May). Both events are organised in association with the US National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) - the NBAA's own convention, in Orlando, Florida, in October, will be the second largest civil aviation show of the year.

Downturn

Despite the increasing certainty that the industry's current downturn will continue well into next year, momentum is growing behind efforts to celebrate the centennial of flight. There have been victims of the slump, and one of the major centennial events - the Aviation World's Fair planned for April in Newport News, Virginia - has been cancelled after the state withdrew its support. The organisers still hope to find a new venue for an aviation centennial exhibition.

Other events are on a firmer footing and the US Centennial of Flight Commission, created by Congress in 1999, is co-ordinating and promoting a wide - and growing - range of activities celebrating the 100th anniversary of powered flight. In the UK, the Royal Aeronautical Society is co-ordinating a year-long programme of conferences, symposia, shows and events to mark 100 years of flight.

The major US initiatives include the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics' (AIAA) Evolution of Flight campaign, the centrepiece of which is a tour by a full-scale replica of the 1903 Wright Flyer. The Festival of Flight (May) is a programme of air shows and exhibitions centred on Fayetteville, North Carolina. Inventing Flight (July) is 18 days of events and exhibitions at the Wright's home town of Dayton, Ohio. The Experimental Aircraft Association's (EAA) Countdown to Kitty Hawk touring pavilion featuresthe Wright Flyer reproduction that will re-enact the first flight on 17 December.

AIAA's Evolution of Flight campaign is already under way. The Wright Flyer tour began in Hawthorne, California, on 26 September and over the next 14 months the replica will be displayed at Nellis AFB, Nevada; Houston, Texas; Kennedy Space Center, Florida; Fayetteville, North Carolina; and Van Nuys, Long Beach, Edwards AFB and Carlsbad in California. The Wright Flyer replica was built by AIAA's Los Angeles section and windtunnel testbed at NASA Ames. Based on the results, a flying replica is now being built and will be unveiled during 2003.

Another centrepiece of the Evolution of Flight campaign is the International Air & Space Symposium and Exposition - The Next 100 Years, being staged in Dayton on 14-17 July in conjunction with the Inventing Flight programme. Organised by AIAA and the International Council of the Aeronautical Sciences (ICAS), and intended as a forum for international collaboration, the symposium will include technical sessions on commercial, military and general aviation and space.

Inventing Flight is likely to be the largest single centennial celebration. An exhibition plaza is being constructed near downtown Dayton that will feature four pavilions focusing on invention, exploration, communication and imagination. EAA will host the invention pavilion as part of its Countdown to Kitty Hawk initiative, which is sponsored by Ford Motor and supported by Microsoft. Lockheed Martin is sponsoring the exploration pavilion. Inventing Flight will culminate in the Dayton Air Show, which will be expanded for 2003 to mark the centenary of flight.

Several of the Inventing Flight events will take place at Wright-Patterson AFB, home of the US Air Force Museum. These include a hot air balloon fly-in, the launch of a gas balloon race to Kitty Hawk and an international blimp meet. The museum itself will mark 2003 with the opening of its third gallery, which will display aircraft of the Cold War. Dayton is also home to the Wright's bicycle shop and a "living history" festival is planned, while the museum will host a "homecoming" of all living enshrinees in the US National Aviation Hall of Fame.

The Wrights may have developed their aircraft in Dayton, but they tested them at Kitty Hawk and North Carolina plans to host several centennial events. World Flight 2003 is a programme of aviation-themed events planned for May and June at airports across the state, including the Fayetteville-based Festival of Flight, co-ordinated by the North Carolina Department of Transportation's Aviation Division. The Festival of Flight includes a general aviation air show, aviation exposition and the Ft Bragg/Pope AFB air show.

Wright re-enactment

The First Flight Centennial Celebration, planned to take place at Kill Devil Hills on 13-17 December, is being organised by the US National Park Service and North Carolina First Flight Centennial Commission. Daily air displays are planned of general, commercial, future and military aviation. On the 17th, the EAA's 1903 Wright Flyer reproduction is scheduled to re-enact the Wright's first and fourth flights.

The First Flight Centennial Foundation plans to raise around $3 million to build a semi-permanent visitors centre at Kill Devil Hills. to handle the expected crowds.

In anticipation of an influx of visitors, the foundation has already refurbished the Wright Brothers Monument and is making improvements to the general aviation airstrip adjacent to first flight site. Money is being raised through sponsorships and the sale of tickets to the limited seating available for the first flight re-enactment.

EAA's 1903 Wright Flyer reproduction is being built by The Wright Experience using the original designs and materials. As windtunnel tests of AIAA's replica showed, the Flyer was a difficult machine to control and EAA's reproduction will probably be tested before its "first flight" at Kitty Hawk at 10.35 on 17 December. In preparation for the first flight, candidate pilots will train on a reproduction of the 1902 Wright Glider.

Other notable events planned for 2003 include a re-creation of the 1932 National Air Tour. This will involve 25 vintage aircraft completing a 6,500km (4,000 mile), 26-city circuit beginning and ending at Dearborn, Michigan, the jumping-off point for tours conducted between 1925 and 1931 to promote air travel. The tours were cancelled with the onset of the Depression and the recreation will follow the route of the 1932 event, which was planned but never flown. Sponsors are being sought for the event, which is planned to involve vintage Curtiss, Ford, Stinson, Travel Air and Waco aircraft.

On 17 December, the 100th anniversary of the Wright's first flight, the US National Air and Space Museum will open its Udvar-Hazy Center at Washington Dulles International Airport. Only 20% of the Smithsonian's aircraft collection is on display at the museum on downtown Washington, DC - including the original 1903 Wright Flyer - and the new centre will allow the remaining 80% now in storage or on loan to be displayed for the first time.

Visitor influx

While the downtown museum attracts more than 9 million visitors a year, 3-4 million are expected to visit the Udvar-Hazy Center. The aviation hangar will display more than 200 aircraft, including the Boeing Dash 80 prototype of the 707, while the space hangar will hold more than 135 vehicles, including the Space Shuttle Enterprise.

Internationally, plans to celebrate the centennial of flight are taking shape slowly. In Australia, AIAA members are building a 1903 Wright Flyer and plan a European and US tour. In the UK, the Yorkshire Air Museum is planning a Centuries of Flight show (6 July) to celebrate both the centenary of the Wright brothers' first flight and the 150th anniversary of Sir George Cayley's first manned glider flight. Replicas of both aircraft will be on display. On 17 December, the Royal Air Force Museum at Hendon in London will open its "Milestones of Flight" extension.

The aviation industry may be in its worst recession for years, but the centennial celebrations offer an opportunity to look back at its accomplishments of the last 100 years and look beyond its present difficulties at the prospects for the next 100 years. The heightened public interest in aviation as the 100th anniversary of the Wright's first flight approaches could also benefit an industry that is in danger of being taken for granted.