Soaring to retrace Wright brothers

At her home in Trappe, Md., on the Eastern Shore, Terry Queijo, a pilot with American Airlines, holds a model of the 1903 Wright Flyer. Three others are vying for the honor to pilot the re-created plane.
At her home in Trappe, Md., on the Eastern Shore, Terry Queijo, a pilot with American Airlines, holds a model of the 1903 Wright Flyer. Three others are vying for the honor to pilot the re-created plane. (Sun photo by Barbara Haddock Taylor)
First in an occasional series

WARRENTON, Va. -- On a grass runway last fall, amid the low rolling hills of the countryside, Terry Queijo prepared for takeoff.

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 looked flight-worthy.

Resting belly to earth in the glider's cradle, the Eastern Shore resident concentrated intently as a pickup truck ahead cruised down the runway at 25 mph - glider in tow.

Within moments, Queijo ascended, hovering 20 feet above the earth. She craned her neck to see the grass below and then, tweaking a front lever, gently "skipped" in the air - rising and falling and rising again - inhaling the aromatic scent of apples that permeated the breeze from a nearby orchard.

For Queijo, an American Airlines captain, the spectacle was a training session.

She is the lone woman among four pilots competing to portray Orville or Wilbur and fly the first exact reproduction of the 1903 Wright Flyer near Kitty Hawk, N.C., on Dec. 17 next year - the 100th anniversary of the world's first powered, heavier-than-air flight.

The flight will culminate a yearlong series of events beginning Tuesday to celebrate 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 directions through a wiggle of her hips, she executed rolls and turns and honed her understanding of the glider's "wing warping" mechanism - the signature element of the Wright brothers' invention of three-axis aerodynamic control. By sunset, 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, a vintage plane-restoration company on 25 acres here that has been hired to reproduce the 1903 Flyer - in the smallest detail possible - for the centennial moment.

It's no easy task. The Wright brothers worked in secret to keep imitators from stealing their ideas. And many of their early prototypes were destroyed, along with construction documentation and drawings.

Wright re-creations

Founded in 1998, the company has been re-creating the Wright brothers' 12-year period of evolutionary design to understand the science behind the bicycle mechanics' breakthroughs.

Its first project - a duplicate of the 1899 kite that confirmed the brothers' wing-warping theory - was completed in 1999. A year later, the company constructed the 1900 glider and last year, the 1901 glider, both kite descendants. Next month, after a decade of research, hundreds of thousands of dollars, and more than 2 1/2 years of construction, it expects to finish an authentic 1903 Flyer. A copy of the first mass-produced military airplane, the 1911 Wright Model B, could be finished by March.

Reproductions of five other Wright Flyers built between 1904 and 1910 and a 1911 glider are in the research phase.

"There really hasn't been anything that has contributed so much to the change 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 Experience president and founder, and another pilot candidate.

"Here were two men who were not members of the aeronautical community, or the academic community for that matter, who in four years solved the problem of flight when for hundreds of years people had been trying to solve it. The thrill of seeing a re- enactment can be nothing but inspiring for the new generation."

It also reaffirms the American ethos, says Randal Dietrich of the Experimental Aircraft Association, which is organizing the centennial events in Kitty Hawk.

"There is an affinity for these two inventors and the spirit of innovation they encapsulated," Dietrich says. "People can identify with the Wright brothers, as inventors, as homebuilders, as independent individuals. It's the American 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 was 11, and Orville was 7. Their father, Bishop Milton Wright, brought home a Penaud toy helicopter, powered by rubber bands, and released it as he entered their room. They were amazed that it did not fall to the floor, but with a buzzing sound, rose to the ceiling.

Immediately, the boys attempted to build larger toys but failed because they did not realize the scientific necessity of proportionately increasing the power. By 1903, Wilbur and Orville, at ages 36 and 32 respectively, had solved the age-old riddle of human flight. Two years later, they built the first fully practical airplane.

Wilbur died in 1912 of typhoid fever at age 45. In 1948, Orville suffered a heart attack and died. He was 76.

In an attempt to revive their legacy, the four pilots will continue training on simulators and replicas until July, when the two most qualified will be chosen.

On Dec. 17 next year, in keeping with the Wright brothers' custom, one of the two pilots will flip a coin to determine who will fly first. The winner will assume the role of Orville and - if weather cooperates - when the clock ticks down to 10:35 a.m., replicate his historic 120-foot, 12-second flight on the sands of Kill Devil Hills. Then the second pilot, as Wilbur, will climb aboard to re-enact the fourth (and last) flight made that day.

The four pilots were chosen from a pool of about 50 candidates based on their aviation experience, appreciation of the Wright brothers legacy and geographic proximity to Warrenton, Va., where training began over the summer under the guidance of research pilot Scott Crossfield, the first to fly twice the speed of sound.

In addition to Queijo and Hyde, the other contenders include Chris Johnson of Manassas, Va., an Air Force Reserve major and American Airlines pilot; and Kevin Kochersberger of Honeoye Falls, N.Y., an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Rochester Institute of Technology on sabbatical in Hampton, Va., conducting wind- tunnel tests on Wright gliders.

Hyde knew all of the pilots before their final selection and was influential in choosing them. He flew planes with Queijo at American Airlines before his retirement in 1998. When he asked her over the summer to be one of the four, he added, "Just consider it.

This and a dollar might get you a cup of coffee. You're not going to get rich."

In the throes of renovating her house, Queijo decided she was not going to let unfinished walls and windows stop her.

She accepted.

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, and controlling the aircraft that they had designed and being up in the wind like a bird," says Queijo at home in Trappe, Md., where she shares a 21-acre ranch with seven lovebirds, three horses and Lily, her Siamese cat. "Every time I get around that glider and fly it, every time I land and we're talking about it, I'm thinking, `Gosh, we could be Orville and Wilbur standing here talking about this thing.'"

Queijo (pronounced kay-jo) must give her all if she hopes to follow in the current of the Wright brothers. Not since that pair has anyone flown an authentic Flyer, which was notoriously unstable and nearly impossible to navigate.

Staying true to history, the reproduction under construction for the centennial will be as wobbly as the original.

That means Queijo, who has clocked thousands of flight hours in Boeing 767s, will have to unlearn everything she knows about being a modern pilot.

To prepare for the feat, the pilots have periodic sessions that include hours aboard both a simulator and reproduction of the 1902 Wright glider - the precursor to the 1903 Flyer. They will eventually train with the 1903 Flyer reproduction itself, possibly on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, after wind tunnel tests are completed in February.

"It's only because it did fly, the Wright brothers were successful, that we know 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 a safe, methodical way."

All four pilots are physically in the range of the Wrights' heights and weights - about 5 feet 10 inches and 150 pounds. But what Queijo also shares with the Wright brothers, according to family and friends, is an adventurous spirit that has taken her from scuba diving to competitive horseback riding to sky diving to making history: In 1986, she was a co-pilot of an American Airlines flight that was the first in aviation history to have an all- female crew.

His daughter's latest quest to prove she is the "Wright" woman to pilot the 12-horsepower 1903 Flyer took Manuel Jack Queijo by surprise. And he knows better.

"We've gotten to the point where we don't know what to expect from her," he says of himself and Queijo's mother, Isabel.

"We've always realized that she was a little bit of a daredevil. She's likely to try almost anything," adds the retired NASA aerospace engineer, who worked 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 that paved her path to the sky.

Until she was 10, her family lived in Yorktown, Va., in a one- story house with asbestos siding and a brick chimney on the banks of Chisman Creek. The property was less than 4 acres, but in young Terry's mind, it might as well have been 50.

A gutsy, albeit shy tomboy, she could often be found on the rural property sailing across the creek in a little sailboat she took out by herself or pulling 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't climbing apple and pear trees, she was busy anchoring tree forts in their branches with her older brother, Donald.

Indoors, it was the family's black-and-white television that fueled Queijo's thirst for adventure. On Saturday mornings, she was enthralled by the exploits of Sky King, a serial about "America's favorite flying cowboy" and his niece Penny, who always managed to save the good and foil the bad while aboard Song Bird, their Cessna 310.

When young Terry saw an episode in which Sky King parachuted from Song Bird to battle a fire her jaw dropped in amazement. "I just thought that was as fun as fun could get."

Later she followed the underwater drama Sea Hunt that chronicled the investigations of a former Navy frogman turned troubleshooter. "I never knew there were things underwater until I saw that show," Queijo says.

But Sky King lingered in her imagination, and by high school she asked her parents whether she could take sky-diving lessons.

Her mother, she recalls, gasped, then went in search of her father, who consulted with Hugh Bergeron - a National Aeronautics and Space Administration co-worker and parachutist - and said no.

Bergeron told her father that sky diving was dangerous, and that Queijo was too young.

As consolation, her father asked whether she would be interested in flying lessons. But Queijo didn't want to sit in planes, she wanted to leap from them.

"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 scuba diving.

"I thought, `Sea Hunt! Yeah! I'll do that,'" Queijo says.

At 16, she became a certified scuba diver. But the desire to sky-dive remained, and she secretly began taking lessons during her junior year at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. After finishing college in 1977 with a degree in animal science, she began competing in U.S. National Skydiving competitions and went on to form an all-female sky-diving team, Silk N' Chutes, that opened air shows and performed at demonstration jumps.

Catching the flying bug

Queijo finally caught the flying bug while aboard a spirally descending sky-diving plane. As she got her first taste of "positive g's," the gravitational force against her body, she looked over and saw the pilot grinning as his hair flapped in the wind. "I thought, `Well, that's kind of neat.'"

But she was still having too much fun hurtling to earth - a pastime she had yet 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 that sky 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 they boarded. "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 by allowing 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 applied for a job at Air Virginia, a commuter airline. Three years later, she was working for American Airlines, and a year later, she made history as part of the nation's first all-female commercial crew.

"That was history, but [the re- enactment] is going to be a little more history, with a capital H,"

Bergeron says: "I hope she's the one who pilots the plane. I'll lay you money 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 about aeronautical 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 select this location because it provides them with high winds and isolation.

1900: The Wright brothers build their first glider in September. It has a wingspan of 17 feet and is mostly flown like a kite because of control difficulties.

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 as expected.

1902: The main difference between the 1901 and 1902 glider is the movable rudder to gain better control in the air. The Wrights make several successful glides with their 1902 glider at Kill Devil Hills, near the town of Kitty Hawk.

1903: The Wrights make the world's first controlled power-driven flight Dec. 17. Orville first pilots the aircraft, which has a small gasoline engine and propellers. The first of the four flights made this day lasts 12 seconds and 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 rolls the machine over.

1904: The brothers construct a new, heavier and stronger aircraft. They shift the motor and put in a more powerful one. They make 105 flights with a total of 45 minutes of air time.

1906: U.S. Patent Office grants the Wright brothers a patent for their 1903 flying machine.

1908: The Wrights make their first public exhibition flights -- Orville in Fort Myers, VA., and Wilbur in LeMans, France.

1908: The first plane to carry a passenger is built. Also, Orville is able to stay aloft for more than an hour, setting a record.

1909: The first military flyer is built. It has a wingspan of 36.5 horsepower engine. Orville is able to fly at a height of 400 feet, with an average speed of 42.5 mph. The flyer costs the military $30,000.

1911: Orville designs a small glider and sets a record for remaining aloft for 9 minutes 45 seconds. For the first time, a glider soars. The record lasts a 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 skids and wheels so the plane can take off and land on any level field. To purchase a 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 the centennial anniversary of aviation and exploring the history of flight.

More information about centennial activities can be found at www.countdowntokittyhawk.com, www.wrightexperience.com. and www.centennialofflight.com.