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Replica Fails to Fly During Festivities Marking 100 Years of Flight - 2003-12-17

At festivities in North Carolina Wednesday to mark the 100th anniversary of Wright brothers' first airplane flight, a replica of the 1903 aircraft failed to get off the ground. It slid down a rail, into a mud puddle. A second attempt to recreate the 59-second flight of Orville Wright by pilot Kevin Kochersberger late in the day also failed because of lack of wind.

Kevin Kochersberger said people should remember the aircraft has limited capability. "For the Wright brothers, this was a proof of concept airplane and it did everything they wanted it to do, which was to prove controlled-powered flight. It doesn't sound like a long distance, but believe me seeing this airplane fly 120 feet is quite an event," he said.

Mr. Kochersberger, who has already flown the Wright replica in test sessions, said the experience is an emotional one. "For me, it is a very emotional experience, and I get choked up thinking about it and talking about it, but being here at the site and the view that you have looking down the rail and the acceleration as the airplane starts going down, you just have visions of history going past you as you roll down and accelerate," he said.

The builder of the 1903 Wright Flyer replica is Ken Hyde. The retired airline pilot has spent more than $1 million in corporate grant money building what historians say is the most accurate replica of the aircraft.

Yet Mr. Hyde says that with all the fanfare surrounding Wednesday's re-enactment of the first powered flight it is easy to lose sight of the fact that the Wright Flyer is a fragile and temperamental machine.

He said markers in the ground that outline the distances traveled by the Wright brothers in their plane of a century ago are testimony to the difficulty Orville and Wilbur had piloting their invention. "People do have the conception that this airplane will take off and go to Elizabeth City and back and that is not true. If you walk the walk out here in the stone, it is really humbling to see how short the first flight was and how they progressed all four flights," he said.

Also humbled by the events unfolding this week at Kitty Hawk is Wes Johnson of Fayetteville, North Carolina. Standing on the high dune from which the Wrights made their first glider experiments, Mr. Johnson reflects on this celebration of the Wright brothers' first flight. "I think we have come a long way in 100 years, 100 years is a short period of time to go from two guys that had a dream to fly a flyer to fly a jet 30,000 feet [in the air] is incredible," he said.

Among the many dignitaries and aviation pioneers who have come to Kitty Hawk this week is former Senator John Glenn, the first American astronaut to circle the earth.

He said that perhaps the lesson of the Wright brothers is that innovation is embedded in nature and that the next advances in aviation lie there.

"I think maybe we need to follow the Wright brothers and get back and look at the birds. Did you ever watch a hummingbird fly? We don't know the first thing about flying compared to a humming bird. Up, down, darting this way and that. Absolutely perfect control in the air. Or watch a pelican out here ride a wave? Go a half a mile maybe without ever flapping its wings, riding along with efficiencies that we haven't even begun to grasp yet," he said.

Among the other notable aviators scheduled to attend the re-enactment of the Wright brothers' historic first flight are Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, and retired Brigadier General Chuck Yeager, the first pilot to break the sound barrier.

Mr. Yeager accomplished that feat in 1947 in the Dell X-1 experimental aircraft, at a time when Orville Wright was still alive to see it.