lines were long, really long, all day, at the Wright Flyer exhibit
at SnF. That's no surprise, as the closest-ever replica of the
original flying machine was there, for all to see. Additionally,
though, there were three of the world's four Flyer flight
simulators, for people to try.
The sims are incredible in and of themselves: you lie on a
section of "wing," with your toes' trying to snag a piece of dowel
rod, to lend support to your hip movements -- they control the
wing-warping (the Flyer had no ailerons) -- and their realistic
force-feedback springs are realistically stiff. You rest on your
belly and your elbows, and your left hand grabs a lever
-- for the very-sensitive pitch.
As the long lines of would-be Wrights pass through the sim, the
looks of disbelief from the fatigued (it's a good thing the
Wrights' flights were so short -- this thing's a real bear
to fly), defeated pilots tell the story: the Wright Brothers were
truly remarkable human beings, and pilots.
Mike Gilbert, Microsoft's Program Manager, gave us
some insight: "It's really unstable, particularly in
pitch; the motions pilots use today don't translate directly.
The Wrights made four flights with their machine, all
straight ahead. When you get a 'real' pilot here -- they
just don't know how to fly something that's inherently unstable,
and with low control authority."
Gilbert continued, "It's amazing the amount of physical effort
that's required. It's a big airplane -- it's not 'virtual' flying.
After about two minutes of flying this thing, you're ready for a
More remarkably, the Wrights had to fly this thing right, on the
first try, without any sim training (although their gliders gave
them a good idea of handling characteristics). Mike reminded us
again, "You get on this simulator here -- it's accurate; but
remember, there's no wind, like there was in December of
As it is, no one at the First Flight Pavillion remembered seeing
anyone who made a really good flight on their first
try. To borrow a line from the PGA ads and apply it to Orville
and Wilbur, "Those guys are good!"