Icons of aviation history wright flyer iii gas exchange in the lungs occurs in the

After returning to Ohio from their historic 1903 flight at Kitty Hawk, the Wright Brothers decided not to repair their wrecked Flyer, but to build a new version from scratch, with a larger engine. Although they had successfully gotten into the air, they knew there was much work to be done before their machine would be practical and many modifications and test flights would need to be made.

To test their Flyer II, the Wrights obtained permission to use a cow pasture just outside of Dayton known as Huffman Prairie. Over the next year, Wilbur and Orville made over 100 flights with the new machine, testing modifications to the wing shape, propeller length, and control surfaces. Without the strong winds that had helped them at Kitty Hawk, the Brothers designed and built their own catapult, using a 20-foot wooden tower and several hundred pounds of metal weights to pull their Flyer along the launch rail and into the air. Their flights lengthened to 1000 feet, then half a mile. As the controls were improved, there were 90-degree turns, then 180 degrees. On September 20, 1904, the Flyer II made a full 360-degree aerial circle.

Although they were still secretive about the details of how their flying machine worked, the Wrights contacted newspapers across the country, offering to allow them to witness the test flights on condition that they did not publish any photographs of the Flyer II. Only one person, the editor of a local bee-keeping magazine, took them seriously, and so the first published description of the Wrights’ test flights at Huffman Prairie was published not in the New York Times or Chicago Tribune or Philadelphia Inquirer, but in Gleanings in Bee Culture. By the end of 1904, the Flyer II was making flights up to five minutes long, circling the field three or four times.

In January 1905, the Brothers dismantled the Flyer II and re-used all the metal parts to construct the Flyer III. This had a more powerful 25-horsepower engine, though it still required the use of a catapult to get into the air. The Wrights added a bigger gas tank and an improved radiator system. But the new design was unstable and difficult to control. In July, Orville made a hard crash-landing that wrecked the Flyer and prompted the Brothers to make some changes.

The most important modifications were in the control surfaces: the elevators and rudders were enlarged by 50% and were also extended forward by over five feet, and the rudder control was removed from the hip cradle which operated the wing warping and given its own independent hand control. With these changes, the Flyer III was a vast improvement over the earlier versions: the stability was greatly enhanced, and the pilot now not only had complete control over pitch, roll and yaw, but could turn the airplane in any direction, make circles and S-turns, could change altitude at will, and make smooth controlled landings. In October 1905, with Wilbur at the controls, the Flyer III stayed aloft for slightly over 39 minutes and covered a distance of 24 miles—longer than all of their previous flights put together—landing only because he ran out of gas.

By this time, word had gotten around from some of the locals about the feats being accomplished by the Brothers, and newspaper reporters at last began to show an interest. But now the Wrights, afraid that detailed descriptions and photos of their machine would lead to someone stealing their designs, dismantled the Flyer III and halted their flights, determined not to give away their secrets until they had confirmed their patent rights and had signed a contract for commercial production. They would not fly again until 1908, when the Flyer III was taken to Kitty Hawk, reassembled, and fitted with a larger engine. With the pilot now sitting upright, there was room for an extra chair, and it became the first aircraft to carry a passenger when both Wilbur and Orville each took one of their mechanics, Charlie Furnas, aloft. Later that same day, Wilbur made a hard landing and damaged the front elevator. The Flyer III was disassembled and sat crated in a museum in Massachusetts for the next four decades.

In 1947, after the Wright Brothers had become world famous, the city of Dayton opened Carillon Park, a series of exhibits containing samples from local industry. Part of the park would celebrate the Wright Brothers and their achievements, and Orville was asked to provide a suitable display. So, working with a team of mechanics, he gathered almost 85% of the original wooden frame and metal parts from the Flyer III, including the actual 1905 engine, and reconstructed it. Today, the rebuilt Wright Flyer III remains on display at Dayton’s Carillon Park, where it is maintained by the National Park Service.

NOTE: As some of you already know, all of my diaries here are draft chapters for a number of books I am working on. So I welcome any corrections you may have, whether it’s typos or places that are unclear or factual errors. I think of y’all as my pre-publication editors and proofreaders. 😉