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Wright Flyer III flies again over Huffman Prairie

  • Published
  • By Derek Kaufman
  • 88th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
Vintage aircraft builder and pilot Mark Dusenberry will confess his passion for flying a replica 1905 Wright Flyer III borders on obsession. 

Over the hallowed Huffman Prairie, where the Orville and Wilbur Wright perfected the airplane, he also felt the Wright brothers' exhilaration and disappointment.

During a reenactment of the Wright brothers' Oct. 5, 1905 flight here, Mr. Dusenberry's historically accurate replica, constructed like the original of spruce and ash, flew gracefully for about 40 seconds and gently turned right -- around the same copse of Hawthorn trees that the Wright brothers once circled -- then a wingtip clipped the ground and the craft did a pirouette.

The aircraft abruptly came to a halt and Mr. Dusenberry climbed from its wing, waving to signal to an assembled crowd of more than 2,000 that only his pride was hurt.

The flight included some of the gentle pitch oscillations that were characteristic of films of Wright brothers' flights dating as late as 1909 or 1910.

Just like the Wright brothers, Mr. Dusenberry is a perfectionist. After painstakingly researching the design of the original Wright Flyer III, he constructed his replica in about 10,000 hours. Then he quite literally -- like the Wright brothers -- taught himself to fly with it. In his 100 odd flights, including 10 at Huffman Prairie, he's had to relearn some of the same lessons they did more than 100 years ago.

He chalks up his latest mishap as part of learning to fly and will apply the lesson to his growing body of knowledge about the fledgling aircraft that proved practical flight could be mastered by men.

His flight, though cut short, commemorated one on the same 84 acres of prairie exactly 102 years earlier when Wilbur Wright flew 24 miles in 39 minutes, circling the field 29 times, at an average speed of 38 miles per hour. The flight, the longest of 1905 and longer than all of the previous years' flights combined, marked the achievement of practical flight, said Ann Honious, historian with the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park.

During an earlier practice flight at Huffman Prairie this week, Mr. Dusenberry flew for 2 minutes 10 seconds, a personal record.

After inspecting his airplane, Dusenberry talked to reporters and was happy to report engine, drive train, top wing, canard and rudder all were undamaged. Both propellers were destroyed however, and the aircraft had damage to its undercarriage.

"It's a fairly common type of accident with these aircraft," said Mr. Dusenberry. "If you read the Wright diaries in 1904 and 1905, they went through probably 4,5,6 propellers in a matter of two months. Undercarriage strength was also an issue and they would break some of their undercarriage struts.

"What I broke was a bunch of sticks and put a few holes in some of my fabric. But fortunately it's all repairable. It will take time, but it will be repaired," he said.

"As you learn to fly the airplane there will be incidents and there will be accidents," Mr. Dusenberry continued. "Some small, some larger. But ultimately what the Wrights managed to achieve over those two years was as they had damage, they repaired it and learned how to fly, (even) as they were fixing and improving their aircraft."

Mr. Dusenberry was reflective of the hazards of early aviation and relishes the opportunity to make public flights, especially in front of children, he said.

"I think it's fantastic, I really think its great," he said of his chance to recreate the Wright brothers' legacy before hundreds of Ohio elementary school kids. "Hopefully it has a positive impression on the kids as far as looking at the aircraft here and thinking about technology and how things have changed over time - and realizing it wasn't always that they could just get into an airplane and go flying across the country."

Mr. Dusenberry, a soft spoken engineer with the Ohio Department of Transportation from Dennison, Ohio, feels a certain kinship with the Wright brothers and their quest to learn more about their fragile flying machines. Based upon his study of the Wrights' diaries, he assesses his flying skills would equate to where Orville and Wilbur were in late 1904.

"You are always striving to achieve more with the aircraft," he said.

Mr. Dusenberry said he hopes the National Park Service and U.S. Air Force will allow him to return to Wright-Patterson and Huffman Prairie for future flights.