By Fly-Low Correspondent Henrietta Christensen
ANN Note: We are pleased to be very good
friends with a wonderful little regional publication by the
name of Fly-Low. Published by Ralph McCormick, we're pleased to
note that every now and then he sends us a neat story from Fly-Low
to share with ANN readers all over the world. Here's a good
"Hallelujah!" hollered Bill Ghan as pilot Don Nevels (below,
center) throttled up the Missouri homebuilt Wright Flyer replica
and lifted off the runway.
"I knew it would fly!" Bill Ghan stated proudly as his Wright
Flyer replica made its first sustained flight on Saturday, January
10, 2004. It maintained twenty miles per hour for 290 feet, and
reaching an altitude of about ten feet above the runway. The hand
made aircraft stayed aloft for 9.67 seconds in its second attempt
to replicate the Wright brothers' first flight at Kitty Hawk, North
Carolina on December 17, 1903.
"I wasn't sure it would fly or not. I kind of really found
myself in the air before I was ready" exclaimed Nevels, who flew
for twelve years as a commercial pilot with United Airlines. Later,
he signed Ghan's airplane log book.
"I don't think I'd fly it again," remarked Nevels.
Bill Ghan, a retired teacher from Mansfield (MO), had spent many
years coaching his shop classes through the technicalities of
aircraft building. One such project was the construction of a
replica wing from the one used on Orville and Wilbur's Flyer. Ghan
decided about four years ago to build the rest of the aircraft
around that wing.
Aerodynamically, the reproduction is almost identical to Wilbur
and Orville's Flyer. "Risk management" changes were made according
to builder Bill Ghan. Using modern aircraft cable tightened with
turnbuckles, Ghan’s Flyer is much more rigid than the
original, which had hand tightened piano wire.
Another small change included the pilot’s ability to warp
the wings with a conventional steering wheel. Doing so, sitting
upright rather than warping the wings by shifting body weight while
lying prone on the wing, as the Wrights did in 1903.
The modern four cylinder Subaru engine produced much more power
than the original engine which produced twelve horsepower. That
allowed that the headwind needed to lift off could be
lower than that needed by the Wrights -- which related to lower
risks for the test flight.
Impressed by the Wright's propellers, Ghan followed the
dimensions and shape of the originals when carving the propellers
for the 2003 Flyer. He laminated eight one-by-six maple boards for
each prop, and chain sawed them into rough shape. Another risk
management feature is the doped fabric placed on each sanded
and finished prop, reducing the chance of delaminating as the
props rotate at about 425 RPM.
With the help of his fellow EAA Chapter 1218 members, Ghan
doggedly followed his goal until December 16, 2003, at the Willow
Springs Airport, the day before it was to fly. The FAA had
certified the replica Wright Flyer as airworthy.
The weather was almost perfect for the first attempt on December
17th, with a warm breeze coming right up the runway and sunny
skies. Bus loads of excited school kids and safety personnel from
the city of Willow Springs (MO) waited while a throng of EAA
members finished last minute details on the plane. Bill Ghan
(below, right) coaxed the Flyer back and forth down the runway,
attempting his first flight to recreate history on that Wednesday
But it was not to
happen. Although Ghan achieved one small hop off of the runway,
sustained flight eluded him. A mechanical linkage, driving the
propellers, was the culprit, and the Flyer was towed back into the
hangar for some rebuilding. Spirits were high, though, in
anticipation of the next attempt.
Nevels' flight mirrored closely the Wright brother's first
flights at Kitty Hawk. Their first attempt netted Orville twelve
seconds and a distance of 120 feet, while Wilbur made it 852 feet
later in the day back in 1903. Their flights, as well as Nevels'
flight, caused minor damage to the Flyer on landing.
The success of this local flight is phenomenal, in the respect
that the EAA also attempted to recreate the "first flight" at
Kitty Hawk on December 17th. Its reproduction Flyer had been test
flown several times before, and needed about 20 miles per hour
wind to fly. At Kitty Hawk, it rained most of the morning, then the
wind dropped, and the EAA reproduction Flyer never quite got off
Until modifications could be made by Ghan and his crew of EAA
Chapter 1218 helpers, and until winter cooperated again on January
10, 2004, the Wright Flyer sat ghost-like in the hangar, waiting to
fly to its place in history.
After some repair, Bill Ghan's reproduction Wright Flyer will be
on permanent display at the Springfield-Branson Regional
In the words of an admiring EAA'er Jim Tausworthe, "Ghan is a
‘Hall of Famer’. He's a real ‘Hall of
Famer’. He never gave up."