SDL and USU Announce Two-year Project to Build Wright Flyer

August 8, 2001

LOGAN — In honor of the 100th anniversary of powered flight, Utah State University and the Space Dynamics Laboratory (SDL) have announced plans to build a flying replica of the Wright

Created in tribute to the Wright brothers' ingenuity and perseverance, the replica will highlight one of the most significant events in history. On Dec. 17, 1903, Wilbur and Orville Wright stepped onto the shores of Kitty Hawk, N.C., and achieved the first powered, controlled, sustained flight.

"Other groups are building replicas using original materials," said David Widauf, an associate professor in the Industrial Technology and Education Department in the College of Engineering at Utah State. "We thought, 'Why not build a replica with materials that would be available if the Wright brothers were constructing an airplane today?'"

The latest Kevlar and graphite materials, used in the space shuttles and next-generation rockets and military aircraft, will replace the muslin and spruce used in the original flyer. The advanced composites and other state-of-the-art materials will be disguised to look like the materials used by the Wrights, so the plane will look like a duplicate of the original.

"Utah is a leading center of composite technology," Widauf said. "With this project, the university is partnering with aerospace manufacturers, the U.S. Air Force and the State of Utah to showcase advancements developed in our state."

The university first became involved with aviation in the mid 1930s when the Aviation Technical Training Program was developed. Students were trained to maintain aircraft in one of the earliest aviation maintenance programs in the United States. The program quickly gained national prestige and became the largest training program for mechanics in the West.

During World War II the Army Air Corp Aviation Maintenance and Flight Training came to the university, and in 1940 Utah State trained 4,012 mechanics for the Army Air Corp. The Army and Navy expanded the Logan Airport in 1941, and it became a major pilot training center during the war.

Utah State student pilots often used a private landing strip operated by Dean Reese, a former university professor. It was a great place for students to "park" on their way to class as it was located on the east side of present day campus.

With the launch of the space age in the late 1950s, the university formed the Electro-Dynamics Laboratories (EDL) to conduct atmospheric research. EDL later evolved into SDL, and under the USU Research Foundation it has become a leader in developing state-of-the-art sensor suites, instrument technology and calibration, and spacecraft systems.

Utah State continues to keep pace with advancements in aviation as exemplified by the development of the Mechanical Aerospace Engineering Department, which has won two consecutive national awards for the Design/Build/Fly contest sponsored American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA).

The advances in aviation and aerospace at Utah State and SDL would never have occurred without the contributions of the Wright brothers, Widauf said. "The Wright brothers' invention gave birth to a century of wondrous technological developments that are also a part of Utah State and SDL history," he said. "We want to continue their legacy by emulating their pioneering spirit."

The two-year project will involve engineers, students, faculty and the local community.