NBAA Convention News

Nonprofit plans to fly ‘Silver Bird’ tribute

 - October 7, 2008, 2:48 PM

“This is a look-alike, not a replica,” said engineer Walt Hoy at the unveiling of the Wright Brothers’ “Silver Bird” Tuesday at Booth No. 3104. “You need to step back a hundred yards to make it look ‘Wright,’” he said, since its design was driven by practical needs for portability and durability. “We tested our truss lines with bags of salt weighing 8,000 pounds to simulate 3.8 gs,” added Hoy, “but if you pull more than two gs it stops dead in the air.”

Amanda Wright-Lane, a great-grandniece of Orville and Wilbur, acts as trustee of Wright B Flyer Inc. and brought “Silver Bird” to NBAA partly to chase sponsor monies helping it to achieve a first flight this spring. The nonprofit will then crate the look-alike to airshows to educate the public about the Wright brothers’ first mass-produced model. More than 100 of the B were built, and the model was one of its most effective demonstrators–it flew around the Statue of Liberty. Wright-Lane said sponsorship from the Paris Air Show next June is pending. Shipping and display space for this week’s landing in Orlando were partially covered by NBAA.
The original “Silver Bird” earned its nickname from a metal skeleton and piano wire, while the version here at NBAA was built, in one year, of chrome alloy steel and aircraft cable by 33 volunteers aged 11 to 91.

Hoy said the “Silver Bird” tips the scale at 2,200 pounds gross, but in its shipping container weighs some 11,000 pounds. On-site, the machine is assembled with only 13 stainless-steel bolts, each rated to 9,200 pounds in double-shear strength.
Hoy said that within an hour after arrival at an event, “we could have two pilots flying it to 5,000 feet.” Flight tests are not yet scheduled, though Hoy plans 50 hours of high-speed ground rolls before one of the three test pilots in consideration will attempt to leave the ground. For now, NBAA attendees can stop by the booth to take wooden controls in hand and fly a computer simulation.

“Stall speed is 41 mph, and redline is 70 mph,” warned Hoy, who quipped that he used the “Rutan method” to test components performance in flutter, strapping them to a car and driving down the runway at 85 mph.