Indeed, when the Wrights filed their patent application, it was for the design of the '02 glider, not the powered airplane of 1903. For the Wrights, the addition of the gasoline engine was a minor advance compared with the airfoil design and control mechanisms they had perfected. Now the brothers were confident that they would fly a powered version of their plane the next time they returned to Kitty Hawk.
That winter, the Wrights began building their engine. When they were done, they had a 12-horsepower, four-cylinder engine that weighed 152 pounds. It was more than sufficient, allowing them to build a bigger, heavier plane than they had planned. The plane's fuel tank held enough gasoline for 18 minutes of flight. Orville's first flight lasted just 12 seconds and covered less than the distance spanned by the wings of a modern passenger jet. But those few seconds changed the world.
For all its graceful lines, the '03 plane looks decidedly strange to the modern eye. Two propellers are stationed behind the wings. The elevator is mounted not as a crosspiece on the tail, as in today's planes, but out in front like a bowsprit. To reduce drag, the pilot lay prone on the lower wing, stretched out on his stomach just inches from the ear-splitting engine. His right hand gripped a wooden lever to control the elevator. Cables moved the wings to make a turn: "wing warping," as the Wrights called it, was the forerunner of ailerons on modern aircraft. Aside from the wings, only the two vertical rudders on the tail of the plane look at all familiar.
Over the next decade the Wrights kept improving their design. By 1908, when they first demonstrated their craft in Europe, they were able to carry a passenger, who sat beside the pilot in a corduroy-upholstered seat. After one such demo flight, the London Daily Mirror ran a front-page story: "The Most Wonderful Flying Machine That Has Ever Been Made."
Hyde and his team are now at the stage the Wrights were at in 1902. They have a design they're confident will fly, and they will soon have an engine and propellers to power it. Two machinists Hyde met at an air show, the brothers Steve and Jim Hay, are hand-building a copy of the 1903 engine. Master mechanic Greg Cone, who with his walrus moustache seems himself to belong in some faded photograph, is cleaning the Wrights' 1904 Engine #3, on loan from the Dayton Engineers Club. This particular engine was the prototype for all the brothers' future engines. "Everything in here has a story a mile long," Cone says.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.