For Terry Queijo, an American Airlines pilot from the Eastern Shore, the distinction means that on Dec. 17 she and fellow pilot Kevin Kochersberger, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at the Rochester Institute of Technology, will step onto the sands near Kitty Hawk in the roles of Orville and Wilbur Wright and attempt to do what hasn't been done in a century: replicate the world's first powered, sustained and controlled flight of a heavier-than-air machine.
The pair will attempt the feat aboard a reproduction of the world's first successful airplane -- the notoriously unstable, 12-horsepower 1903 Flyer. The aircraft was replicated to the smallest detail possible by an airplane restoration facility in Warrenton, Va., known as the Wright Experience. The event will culminate the nation's yearlong centennial celebration of the birth of aviation and the two tinkering inventors from Dayton, Ohio, who made it possible.
Retired American Airlines pilot and Wright Experience founder Ken Hyde of Warrenton and Chris Johnson of Manassas, Va., an Air Force Reserve major and American Airlines pilot, were named yesterday as alternate pilots. All four pilots are physically in the range of the Wrights' heights and weights -- about 5-foot-10 and 150 pounds.
So how does it feel to be the "Wright" woman for the job?
"I'm absolutely thrilled," Quiejo, 48, said yesterday from Oshkosh, Wis., where the announcement was made at the annual AirVenture fly-in sponsored by the Experimental Aircraft Association. "I'm looking forward to going out to Kitty Hawk and flying the airplane like we've been practicing, and getting the job done."
The Trappe resident was the lone woman among four pilots competing for the honor and has been training for the experience since last summer on both a simulator and reproduction of the 1902 Wright glider -- the precursor to the 1903 Flyer. Queijo (pronounced kay-jo) and Kochersberger will continue training under the guidance of research pilot Scott Crossfield, the first to fly twice the speed of sound. Crossfield selected the two winners, who will eventually log hours on a simulator of the Flyer and the reproduction itself.
In keeping with the Wright brothers' custom, the two pilots will flip a coin on Dec. 17 to determine who is first to pilot the plane.
The winner will portray Orville and -- if the weather cooperates -- when the clock ticks down to 10:35 a.m., replicate his historic 120-foot, 12-second flight over the sands of Kill Devil Hills. The second pilot, as Wilbur, will climb aboard at 2 p.m. to re-enact the fourth (and last) flight -- 852 feet, 59 seconds -- made that day before the plane was damaged by a gust of wind.
Indeed, despite months of preparation, the one thing that could stop the pair from following in the current of the Wrights is the weather.
The Outer Banks is known for its notoriously unruly climate. In fact, two months before the Wrights' Dec. 17 flights, the brothers encountered gale force winds of up to 75 mph at their encampment, that "whipped the sand into stinging furies, tore at the tarpaper on the roof of the shed and brought a tide of water over the floor," James Tobin recounts in To Conquer the Air: The Wright Brothers and The Great Race for Flight.
"It's going to be timing and a little bit of luck," said Randal Dietrich of the Experimental Aircraft Association, which is organizing the centennial events at Kitty Hawk. "The weather is going to be a factor and all that uncertainty is kind of the excitement at the same time."
Kochersberger, 42, who helped test the Flyer reproduction in a wind tunnel at the Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, said that data gathered from the tests will help determine what conditions will be needed for a successful flight.
"We are eliminating a lot of uncertainty with that," said the engineer of Honeoye Falls, N.Y. "There is risk in this endeavor, but I'm confident that we are taking the necessary precautions. Still, the only thing I'm afraid of is the weather."
For Queijo, the challenge is the latest chapter in an adventurous life 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.
"We are also very aware that the airplane is by nature unstable, so we'll be training at a level to make sure that the mission does go as planned," said Queijo, who serves as captain for Boeing 757s and 767s out of Washington.
She hopes her selection will serve as an inspiration for aspiring pilots.
"Not only to inspire women to gravitate toward aviation, but inspire everybody to know that anything can be accomplished if they persevere and set their sights high just like Orville and Wilbur Wright."