Saturday, June 6, 2015

Briefly breaking the surly bonds in the Wright B Flyer

Plane: Wright Model B Flyer
Route: MGY, Runway 02
Weather: Overcast, 66 degrees, wind 030 degrees at 10 knots

This has been a couple years in the making, solely due to my own scheduling procrastination. A couple Christmases ago my in-laws gifted me an orientation ride on the Wright B Flyer. In case you're curious, you can do the same with a $100 donation/membership to the organization.

Video from both inside (if you can call it that) and outside the cockpit!

The in-laws decided to come down to visit this weekend and Gina - compensating for my scheduling laziness - scheduled flights for both myself and Gerry, her dad. We headed over to Wright Brothers around 9:45 to fill out the requisite liability forms before our flights.

I should note that I offered to sign my life away if they would take me for a flight out of the pattern but alas, it's not that easy. The orientation rides are simply a takeoff, level-off, and landing - all over the mile of runway at KMGY.

I went first.

Getting strapped in for my orientation ride

All buckled up and ready to go

They fired the plane up and ran through a full set of checks before one of the volunteers helped me up the ladder and strapped on my goggles and headset. Then the pilot, a very nice guy whose name escapes me Rich Stepler (thanks for pointing his name out, Chris!), gave me the standard safety briefing. It could best be summarized as, "don't touch anything!" Understandable.

We chatted a little bit as we taxied to the runway and I obviously told him that I flew and we chatted a little about flight training and instruction. I forget Rich's exact background but he's a former commercial pilot and CFI with way more hours than I think my logbook will ever see. Holding short of the runway, he did a standard runup and things got louder.

Old and new

Rolling onto Runway 02 for takeoff

We rolled onto the runway after a Cirrus departed, got lined up, sat for a minute, and then the pilot pushed in the throttle. It's hard to exactly describe the sensation but it was definitely noisy (the O-360 has a tad more pep than the original engine did driving dual 97" props) as we started moving. The bird actually accelerated quite quickly; one abrupt and firm yank back on the yoke and we were climbing.

Gina was on the ground with her mom, Linda, and dad in a golf cart during my flight; they took the photos and video. The whole experience doesn't last more than a minute but it was still an awesome site both from the ground and obviously from my perspective. Wind in your face, nothing but a few tubes and cables and fabric, just pure vintage aviation at its best.

Airborne in the Wright B

Passing midfield at 50-100 feet AGL

Crossing in front of the chase golf cart at Taxiway B

Power reduced, quickly descending 

Just beginning to flare

Landing on Runway 02 with me onboard

Perhaps what most blew me away was the quick descent and landing. It almost felt like we were going to run past the end of the runway, but as soon the nose was lowered and power was reduced we were on the ground and stopped in no more than 500 feet. Cub-like, almost. Soon after we rolled onto the taxiway at the end of the runway at a walking pace and taxied back to the tarmac in front of the museum.

I was quickly helped down from the right seat and Gerry soon was climbing up the ladder for his turn. They run an efficient operation - the engines remain on, safely since they're behind the wings, and passengers swap places. Within minutes, he was taxiing for his ride and I was now in the golf cart, camera in hand.

Back on the tarmac after my flight

Climbing down requires some Cub-like contortions

Quite focused on the soon-to-be-worn goggles

Probably being told that it's bad to put your feet on the pedals

Taxiing away from the ramp for the second flight of the day

Lifting off from Runway 02

Climbing in the uniquely noisy Wright B fashion

Gerry was waving to us onlookers below

Crossing in front of us while 50-100 feet in the air

Still level, prior to descent

Power reduced and descending quickly once again

Flaring for landing

Touchdown back on Runway 02

Gerry taxiing back in after his orientation ride

Having a nice chat with the ride coordinator after our flights

Me, our pilot, and Gerry after our flights

You can see why every passenger receives a toothpick upon landing

It's a rather interesting combination of old and new up front

I've flown the Wright B Flyer simulators before (there are a few in the Dayton area, including at the Wright B Flyer museum and the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park sites) and I have to say that I'm impressed by how accurate they appear to be. While I was only right-seating without touching the controls, the actual plane behaved strikingly similar to how I recall the sims flying. Basically, full power, yank back, barely climb, and only reduce power when you're ready to immediately descend and land. If you want to read more, Rich has a nice write-up from the pilot's perspective on the Wright B Flyer site.

We probably spent a couple hours total at the airport this morning but it was a great time, not just for me and Gerry, but Gina and Linda also enjoyed watching things from the ground. It's hard to describe every sensation I experienced but there were certainly similarities to other open-cockpit planes like the Stearman. That said, the Wright B Flyer is a rather unique aircraft with some very distinct flying characteristics. The whole experience was really cool.

My official proof of today's short aerial adventure 

If you're ever in the Dayton area and love aviation you should definitely consider your own orientation ride. While it is quite short it's an awesome historic experience and the money certainly goes to a good cause. Also, if you live in Ohio, consider one of our aviation heritage vanity plates - proceeds go to the Wright B Flyer organization.


  1. Wow, what an experience! I agree, while watching the video, I had the same sense that you were going to overrun the end of the pavement. I guess that's what a ton of drag will do for you. I have to imagine that the O-360 just provides ridiculous gobs of power (to quantify precisely) compared to what the Wrights had available in 1910.

    Crazy question - isn't the name of your pilot written right on the certificate? :-)

    Is the airfoil on your ride authentic? As a thick cambered wing with a flat bottom, it looks quite different from that of the 1903 Flyer.

    Welcome back to the Blog-o-sphere!

    1. a) Yep, I had a feeling the video would give other pilots the same "end of runway... approaching... quickly!" feeling.

      b) D'oh on the name - I'll fix that. :)

      c) Yeah, it's not a true replica, but a lookalike built with "modern engineering and materials" as they like to say. So no wing warping and such.

      d) Thanks - it's great to be back!

    2. I saw on their website that they did not do wing warping. A shame - I would have liked to have seen the wing warping mechanism in action.

      Don't get me wrong, still a cool experience. I felt the same way about the Curtiss Pusher at the Owls Head Transportation Museum in Maine, an airworthy example using a modern engine (I can't recall if it was a Continental or a Lycoming, but it was one of them).

  2. Awesome experience!

    I also thought you were headed for the grass. I would have been tempted to call my plane and see what his response would be.

    Thanks for sharing the video!