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Crowds gather for re-enactment

By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez

KILL DEVIL HILLS, N.C. (Dec. 18, 2003) -- More than 34,200 people stood in mud, the cold and rain, and under gray sky to witness the climax of a yearlong celebration.

The event was not even something original or new, but something that had been done before -- exactly 100 years before.

Pilot Kevin Kochersberger rides a replica of the Wright brothers' original 1903 flyer down a 180-foot rail in his first attempt to re-enact the "12 seconds that changed the world" during the centennial of flight celebration here Dec. 17. More than 34,000 aviation enthusiasts braved hours of bitter cold and drenching rains at the Wright Brothers National Memorial, hoping to witness the 100th-anniversary re-enactment of the event. U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Jim Varhegyi.

The crowd gathered to watch a re-enactment of Orville and Wilbur Wright’s first powered flight that took place Dec. 17, 1903, at 10:35 a.m. at that very location -- now a national park in the brothers’ honor. The re-enactment was the finale of the centennial of flight celebration that consisted of aviation-related events held in locations across the United States.

The centerpiece of the re-enactment was a reproduction of the Wright brothers’ original 1903 flyer. The 605-pound, 440-foot-wide aircraft of mostly wood, fabric and aluminum, was equipped with a four-cylinder, 12-horsepower engine and two handcrafted wooden propellers. The craft was exact in every detail to the Wright brothers’ original flyer and was built by The Wright Experience, of Warrenton, Va.

The goal of the Experimental Aviation Association, the organization that commissioned construction of the aircraft, was to re-enact the Wright brothers’ original flight exactly 100 years after it happened. They hoped to use an exact reproduction of the craft, fly it in the same location the brothers had and conduct the flight at exactly the same time the Wright brothers had.

Unfortunately, the weather was not the same as the Wright brothers had a century before. Weather was the one factor in the equation that the association, who had been so precise in all other regards, was unable to control.

The crowd in the bleachers was disappointed when they learned the craft would not fly at 10:35, because of a lack of wind. The muddy, 800-foot-wide circular field where the flight was to take place remained empty.

But, like the Wright brothers themselves, the aircrew was persistent. Around noon, the reproduction Wright flyer rolled out into the field. After nearly a half-hour of preparations and several attempts to start the craft’s twin propellers, the two-stroke motor sputtered to a start. The crowd exploded into cheers.

Several minutes later, the ground crew pushed the craft down the 180 feet of wooden rail that had been laid across the muddy field.

Near the end of the rail, the nose of the flyer lifted up and the craft lifted nearly six inches off the ground. Unfortunately, the wind was not strong enough to take the aircraft on the 12-second flight the Wright brothers experienced 100 years ago.

The crew did not consider their attempt a failure. They later said they had flown the craft several times before, preparing for the event. Their efforts, the lessons they had learned in trying, the event attendance and the approval of the crowd meant they had been successful.

“I’m not disappointed at all,” said Ken Hyde, the flyer’s builder. “I would have liked like to have shown people we could fly. I would have liked to have flown [it]. But we have created an awareness of the Wright brothers here.”

Hyde said the crowds have been amazing the past four days.

“It’s amazing the number of people who have come here to join us,” he said.