First in an occasional series
WARRENTON, Va. -- On a grass runway last fall,amid the low rolling hills of the countryside, Terry Queijo prepared fortakeoff.
Her 32-foot aircraft, a reproduction of a 1902 Wright brothers glider,resembled an overgrown box kite made of wood and bed sheets. It hardly lookedflight-worthy.
Resting belly to earth in the glider's cradle, the Eastern Shore residentconcentrated intently as a pickup truck ahead cruised down the runway at 25mph - glider in tow.
Within moments, Queijo ascended, hovering 20 feet above the earth. Shecraned her neck to see the grass below and then, tweaking a front lever,gently "skipped" in the air - rising and falling and rising again - inhalingthe aromatic scent of apples that permeated the breeze from a nearby orchard.
For Queijo, an American Airlines captain, the spectacle was a trainingsession.
She is the lone woman among four pilots competing to portray Orville orWilbur and fly the first exact reproduction of the 1903 Wright Flyer nearKitty Hawk, N.C., on Dec. 17 next year - the 100th anniversary of the world'sfirst powered, heavier-than-air flight.
The flight will culminate a yearlong series of events beginning Tuesday tocelebrate the birth of aviation and the two tinkering inventors from Dayton,Ohio, who made it possible.
On that September afternoon, shifting the wings in opposite directionsthrough a wiggle of her hips, she executed rolls and turns and honed herunderstanding of the glider's "wing warping" mechanism - the signature elementof the Wright brothers' invention of three-axis aerodynamic control. Bysunset, Queijo had soared a half-dozen times in the autumn air.
When it was all over, she drifted the wheelless, 112- pound craft down,climbed out and reported to engineers: "Very smooth - like flying a Kleenex."
That was good news for engineers and craftsmen at the Wright Experience, avintage plane-restoration company on 25 acres here that has been hired toreproduce the 1903 Flyer - in the smallest detail possible - for thecentennial moment.
It's no easy task. The Wright brothers worked in secret to keep imitatorsfrom stealing their ideas. And many of their early prototypes were destroyed,along with construction documentation and drawings.
Founded in 1998, the company has been re-creating the Wright brothers'12-year period of evolutionary design to understand the science behind thebicycle mechanics' breakthroughs.
Its first project - a duplicate of the 1899 kite that confirmed thebrothers' wing-warping theory - was completed in 1999. A year later, thecompany constructed the 1900 glider and last year, the 1901 glider, both kitedescendants. Next month, after a decade of research, hundreds of thousands ofdollars, and more than 2 1/2 years of construction, it expects to finish anauthentic 1903 Flyer. A copy of the first mass-produced military airplane, the1911 Wright Model B, could be finished by March.
Reproductions of five other Wright Flyers built between 1904 and 1910 and a1911 glider are in the research phase.
"There really hasn't been anything that has contributed so much to thechange of our lifestyle or the way we do business - not even in this country,but in the world - as the airplane," says Ken Hyde, Wright Experiencepresident and founder, and another pilot candidate.
"Here were two men who were not members of the aeronautical community, orthe academic community for that matter, who in four years solved the problemof flight when for hundreds of years people had been trying to solve it. Thethrill of seeing a re- enactment can be nothing but inspiring for the newgeneration."
It also reaffirms the American ethos, says Randal Dietrich of theExperimental Aircraft Association, which is organizing the centennial eventsin Kitty Hawk.
"There is an affinity for these two inventors and the spirit of innovationthey encapsulated," Dietrich says. "People can identify with the Wrightbrothers, as inventors, as homebuilders, as independent individuals. It's theAmerican story in a way: two people who had a dream and achieved it."
The brothers first turned their thoughts to flight in 1878 when Wilbur was11, and Orville was 7. Their father, Bishop Milton Wright, brought home aPenaud toy helicopter, powered by rubber bands, and released it as he enteredtheir room. They were amazed that it did not fall to the floor, but with abuzzing sound, rose to the ceiling.
Immediately, the boys attempted to build larger toys but failed becausethey did not realize the scientific necessity of proportionately increasingthe power. By 1903, Wilbur and Orville, at ages 36 and 32 respectively, hadsolved the age-old riddle of human flight. Two years later, they built thefirst fully practical airplane.
Wilbur died in 1912 of typhoid fever at age 45. In 1948, Orville suffered aheart attack and died. He was 76.
In an attempt to revive their legacy, the four pilots will continuetraining on simulators and replicas until July, when the two most qualifiedwill be chosen.
On Dec. 17 next year, in keeping with the Wright brothers' custom, one ofthe two pilots will flip a coin to determine who will fly first. The winnerwill assume the role of Orville and - if weather cooperates - when the clockticks down to 10:35 a.m., replicate his historic 120-foot, 12-second flight onthe sands of Kill Devil Hills. Then the second pilot, as Wilbur, will climbaboard to re-enact the fourth (and last) flight made that day.
The four pilots were chosen from a pool of about 50 candidates based ontheir aviation experience, appreciation of the Wright brothers legacy andgeographic proximity to Warrenton, Va., where training began over the summerunder the guidance of research pilot Scott Crossfield, the first to fly twicethe speed of sound.
In addition to Queijo and Hyde, the other contenders include Chris Johnsonof Manassas, Va., an Air Force Reserve major and American Airlines pilot; andKevin Kochersberger of Honeoye Falls, N.Y., an associate professor ofmechanical engineering at Rochester Institute of Technology on sabbatical inHampton, Va., conducting wind- tunnel tests on Wright gliders.
Hyde knew all of the pilots before their final selection and wasinfluential in choosing them. He flew planes with Queijo at American Airlinesbefore his retirement in 1998. When he asked her over the summer to be one ofthe four, he added, "Just consider it.
This and a dollar might get you a cup of coffee. You're not going to getrich."
In the throes of renovating her house, Queijo decided she was not going tolet unfinished walls and windows stop her.
Four months later - wearing a crash helmet and clad in knee and shin pads -she was training in the Wright glider.
"It was just so cool to be laying down there, just like they were, andcontrolling the aircraft that they had designed and being up in the wind likea bird," says Queijo at home in Trappe, Md., where she shares a 21-acre ranchwith seven lovebirds, three horses and Lily, her Siamese cat. "Every time Iget around that glider and fly it, every time I land and we're talking aboutit, I'm thinking, `Gosh, we could be Orville and Wilbur standing here talkingabout this thing.'"
Queijo (pronounced kay-jo) must give her all if she hopes to follow in thecurrent of the Wright brothers. Not since that pair has anyone flown anauthentic Flyer, which was notoriously unstable and nearly impossible tonavigate.
Staying true to history, the reproduction under construction for thecentennial will be as wobbly as the original.
That means Queijo, who has clocked thousands of flight hours in Boeing767s, will have to unlearn everything she knows about being a modern pilot.
To prepare for the feat, the pilots have periodic sessions that includehours aboard both a simulator and reproduction of the 1902 Wright glider - theprecursor to the 1903 Flyer. They will eventually train with the 1903 Flyerreproduction itself, possibly on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, after windtunnel tests are completed in February.
"It's only because it did fly, the Wright brothers were successful, that weknow that we can do it as well," says Queijo.
"It's a lot different than flying a jet, but we're going about it in asafe, methodical way."
All four pilots are physically in the range of the Wrights' heights andweights - about 5 feet 10 inches and 150 pounds. But what Queijo also shareswith the Wright brothers, according to family and friends, is an adventurousspirit that has taken her from scuba diving to competitive horseback riding tosky diving to making history: In 1986, she was a co-pilot of an AmericanAirlines flight that was the first in aviation history to have an all- femalecrew.
His daughter's latest quest to prove she is the "Wright" woman to pilot the12-horsepower 1903 Flyer took Manuel Jack Queijo by surprise. And he knowsbetter.
"We've gotten to the point where we don't know what to expect from her," hesays of himself and Queijo's mother, Isabel.
"We've always realized that she was a little bit of a daredevil. She'slikely to try almost anything," adds the retired NASA aerospace engineer, whoworked closely with the Apollo program and its Lunar Lander.
Terry Queijo, 47, lacks the rugged countenance linked with danger.
Yet even as a child, she displayed early signs of the bold spirit thatpaved her path to the sky.
Until she was 10, her family lived in Yorktown, Va., in a one- story housewith asbestos siding and a brick chimney on the banks of Chisman Creek. Theproperty was less than 4 acres, but in young Terry's mind, it might as wellhave been 50.
A gutsy, albeit shy tomboy, she could often be found on the rural propertysailing across the creek in a little sailboat she took out by herself orpulling sea nettles from the water. (They stung, but it was worth it.)
On land, she romped with her collie, Laddie Girl, and when she wasn'tclimbing apple and pear trees, she was busy anchoring tree forts in theirbranches with her older brother, Donald.
Indoors, it was the family's black-and-white television that fueledQueijo's thirst for adventure. On Saturday mornings, she was enthralled by theexploits of Sky King, a serial about "America's favorite flying cowboy" andhis niece Penny, who always managed to save the good and foil the bad whileaboard Song Bird, their Cessna 310.
When young Terry saw an episode in which Sky King parachuted from Song Birdto battle a fire her jaw dropped in amazement. "I just thought that was as funas fun could get."
Later she followed the underwater drama Sea Hunt that chronicled theinvestigations of a former Navy frogman turned troubleshooter. "I never knewthere were things underwater until I saw that show," Queijo says.
But Sky King lingered in her imagination, and by high school she asked herparents whether she could take sky-diving lessons.
Her mother, she recalls, gasped, then went in search of her father, whoconsulted with Hugh Bergeron - a National Aeronautics and Space Administrationco-worker and parachutist - and said no.
Bergeron told her father that sky diving was dangerous, and that Queijo wastoo young.
As consolation, her father asked whether she would be interested in flyinglessons. But Queijo didn't want to sit in planes, she wanted to leap fromthem.
"I always thought it was, You go up, you fly, like a car and then land,"she says. "I couldn't see much point in it." So her father suggested scubadiving.
"I thought, `Sea Hunt! Yeah! I'll do that,'" Queijo says.
At 16, she became a certified scuba diver. But the desire to sky-diveremained, and she secretly began taking lessons during her junior year atVirginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. After finishing collegein 1977 with a degree in animal science, she began competing in U.S. NationalSkydiving competitions and went on to form an all-female sky-diving team, SilkN' Chutes, that opened air shows and performed at demonstration jumps.
Catching the flying bug
Queijo finally caught the flying bug while aboard a spirally descendingsky-diving plane. As she got her first taste of "positive g's," thegravitational force against her body, she looked over and saw the pilotgrinning as his hair flapped in the wind. "I thought, `Well, that's kind ofneat.'"
But she was still having too much fun hurtling to earth - a pastime she hadyet to reveal to her parents.
One day, while waiting to board a plane at a drop zone in Richmond, Va.,Queijo, then 23, discovered that Bergeron - the man who told her father thatsky diving was too dangerous - was the pilot.
Queijo's blood turned to ice.
She looked ahead and saw Bergeron taking the names of the jumpers as theyboarded. "Are you Jack Queijo's daughter?" he asked.
"Yes," she said panicking, "but please don't tell!"
He didn't. And later he helped her earn a commercial pilot's license byallowing her to ratchet up hours in his sky-diving plane.
"He was the one who gave me my first break," Queijo says.
After being laid off from her job as a lab technician in 1982, she appliedfor a job at Air Virginia, a commuter airline. Three years later, she wasworking for American Airlines, and a year later, she made history as part ofthe nation's first all-female commercial crew.
"That was history, but [the re- enactment] is going to be a little morehistory, with a capital H,"
Bergeron says: "I hope she's the one who pilots the plane. I'll lay youmoney that if she flies it, she won't crash it."
Learning to fly
April 16, 1867: Wilbur Wright born on a farm near New Castle, Ind.
August 19, 1871: Orville Wright is born in Dayton, Ohio.
1892: The Wright brothers open a bicycle business in Dayton.
1899: Wilbur writes the Smithsonian Institution inquiring aboutaeronautical subjects. The brothers build and fly a kite, cofirming their"wing warp" theory of control.
September, 1900: The Wright brothers visit Kitty Hawk, N.C. They selectthis location because it provides them with high winds and isolation.
1900: The Wright brothers build their first glider in September. It has awingspan of 17 feet and is mostly flown like a kite because of controldifficulties.
1901: The 1901 glider is similar to the previous one, but has a wingspan,of 22 feet. It flies up to 389 feet, but it does not perform as well asexpected.
1902: The main difference between the 1901 and 1902 glider is the movablerudder to gain better control in the air. The Wrights make several successfulglides with their 1902 glider at Kill Devil Hills, near the town of KittyHawk.
1903: The Wrights make the world's first controlled power-driven flightDec. 17. Orville first pilots the aircraft, which has a small gasoline engineand propellers. The first of the four flights made this day lasts 12 secondsand covers 120 feet. The longest flight lasts 59 seconds and reaches 852 feet.After the fourth flight, the 1903 Flyer is destroyed when a gust of wind rollsthe machine over.
1904: The brothers construct a new, heavier and stronger aircraft. Theyshift the motor and put in a more powerful one. They make 105 flights with atotal of 45 minutes of air time.
1906: U.S. Patent Office grants the Wright brothers a patent for their 1903flying machine.
1908: The Wrights make their first public exhibition flights -- Orville inFort Myers, VA., and Wilbur in LeMans, France.
1908: The first plane to carry a passenger is built. Also, Orville is ableto stay aloft for more than an hour, setting a record.
1909: The first military flyer is built. It has a wingspan of 36.5horsepower engine. Orville is able to fly at a height of 400 feet, with anaverage speed of 42.5 mph. The flyer costs the military $30,000.
1911: Orville designs a small glider and sets a record for remaining aloftfor 9 minutes 45 seconds. For the first time, a glider soars. The record lastsa decade.
1911: The first plane to be manufactured in quanity is the Wright Model B.It is the first time a rear stabilizer is used. The Wright brothers add skidsand wheels so the plane can take off and land on any level field. To purchasea plane from them, the buyer has to take flight lessons. The plane costs about$5,000.
About the series
This is the first in a series of occasional articles following thecentennial anniversary of aviation and exploring the history of flight.
More information about centennial activities can be found atwww.countdowntokittyhawk.com, www.wrightexperience.com. andwww.centennialofflight.com.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun