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1909-1910 Wright Model AB
 

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hile teaching the first U.S. military pilots at College Park, Maryland in the fall of 1909, Wilbur Wright attached a horizontal surface ahead of the twin rudders of the Military Flyer, hoping to improve the longitudinal or pitch stability of the aircraft. Orville, who was flying in Germany at the same time, did the same thing, only he affixed the surface behind the rudder of a standard Model A. The experiment showed promise, and Orville next replaced the fixed rear surface with a flexible elevator, giving the airplane an elevator in the front and rear, a configuration very much like Curtiss and Farman aircraft at the time.

In the winter and early spring of 1910, Orville trained the Wright exhibition team -- called the "Wright Fliers" -- in Montgomery, Alabama at the site of what is now Maxwell Air Force Base. The students flew what historian Wick Wright, the nephew of the Wright brothers, would later call the "Model AB." It had two elevators, one at the front and the other at the back of the airplane. This was a transitional design that the Wrights considered experimental. Arch Hoxsey, in fact was assigned to fly a "convertible" aircraft that could be set up with the elevator in front, the elevator in back, or the elevator in the front and back. Photos show Hoxsey flying during the summer of 1910 with the aircraft in all these configurations. The Wrights most likely did this so one pilot could gain flying experience with all three configurations and report on the stability and controllability of each.

Sometime during the summer, the Wrights also added wheels to the Model AB, possibly after reading reports from Lt. Benjamin Foulois who had installed wheels on the Military Flyer. By the fall of 1910, the Wrights were finished experimenting with the Model AB. They had decided that the elevator worked best when positioned at the back of the aircraft and that wheels were more convenient than the catapult launching system. On October 22, 1910 at the Belmont Aviation Tournament in New York, the Wright introduced their new airplane design, the "Model B." It was the first of their aircraft to have a conventional tail and landing gear.

References:

  • McFarland, Marvin W. (ed), "The papers of Wilbur and Orville Wright." McGraw-Hill Book Co., New York, 1953, p 1197.

The 1909 Military Flyer in its hangar at College Park. Wilbur has removed the upper surface from the front elevator and has attached it to a post just ahead of the rear rudder.

The first true Model AB makes its appearance at the Wright Flying School in Montgomery, Alabama in the late winter of 1910. It has two functioning elevators with a total of three horizontal control surfaces – two in the front and one in the rear. The rear elevator trails the rudder.

A Wright Model AB in level flight over Simms Station.

Here again is Hoxsey's aircraft in St. Louis, but it's set up with a single elevator surface at the rear of the aircraft. He has moved the blinkers to the forward braces, the same position as the blinkers in the future Model B.

An illustration of the Model AB, possibly the aircraft Orville tested in Germany in 1909.

In this position, the surface is stationary or "fixed." It cannot be tilted or flexed like a control surface.

The Wright built a second Model AB and flew them both at the Flying School at Simms Station (Huffman Prairie) in the spring of 1910. They continued to use their catapult and rail to launch the airplanes.

When the Wright Fliers began to give exhibition flights in 1910, Arch Hoxsey flew a test aircraft that could be configured with the elevator surfaces at the front or rear of the aircraft. Here, he flies in St. Louis with the surfaces at both ends. Note that he has added a set of wheels to the undercarriage.

At the Belmont Aviation Tournament in the fall of 1910, Hoxsey's convertible aircraft was assembled with just one elevator at the rear. The only thing that distinguished it from the Wright Model B that the Wright brothers introduced at this air meet was the extended front skids and the semi-circular blinkers. The Model B had shorter skids and triangular blinkers.

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