Why they're switching out the Wright Brothers glider at the NC Museum of History

The N.C. Museum of History is getting an additional piece of Wright Brothers memorabilia with the installation on Monday of a replica 1902 Wright Glider.

The glider will hang in the lobby of the Raleigh museum. It replaces a replica of the 1903 Wright Flyer that had been on loan to the state.

Both aircraft belong to the National Park Service's Wright Brothers Memorial Visitor Center at Kitty Hawk and were moved out when that building was closed for renovations in November 2016. When it reopens — by the fall — the visitor center will have space for just one of the famous brothers' planes. After some renovations to the replica, the 1903 Wright Flyer will be displayed there, and the 1902 Wright Glider will remain at the N.C. Museum of History on a long-term loan.

A crew from The Wright Experience, a Warrenton, Va., company that specializes in building replicas of the Wright brothers' planes, handled the disassembly of the 1903 flyer and the reassembly of the 1902 glider. As they worked Monday afternoon, the museum lobby looked like a model airplane hobbyist's workshop, but with full-sized pieces: maple wing struts, steel wires and winds covered in cotton muslin.

Bill Hadden with the Wright Experience prepares a section of a 1903 Wright Flyer to be moved out at the N.C. Museum of History in Raleigh on June 18, 2018. They are replacing a replica 1903 Wright Flyer with a replica 1902 Wright Glider at the Museum. The 1902 Glider was the aircraft that was a prelude to the first successful powered flight with the 1903 Flyer. The 1903 model has been on loan while renovations have been talking place at the Wright Brothers Memorial Visitor Center at Kitty Hawk. Chris Seward cseward@newsobserver.com

Bill Hadden, a researcher for the company who was working on the planes Monday, said the work was a bit nerve-wracking, especially since the 1902 replica is a historical artifact in its own right, having been built for the National Park Service in the 1950s. Both planes were built according to the Wright Brothers' well-documented specifications.

"The worst days airplanes have are traveling days," Hadden said.

"They like air conditioning and admiring crowds," he said, not riding in the back of a semi-truck, as both these aircraft had to do to accomplish the switch.

Museum Director Ken Howard was excited about the switch, because it adds to the brothers' story that the museum can tell. The museum already had another 1903 Wright Flyer, on display in "The Story of North Carolina" exhibit. Now it will have three different replicas of Wright brothers planes: the 1902 Wright Glider, the 1903 Wright Flyer and the 1911 Wright Glider.

The 1902 Wright Glider was the brothers' third aircraft and the first in the world to have three-axis aero-dynamic control: roll, pitch and yaw. These in-flight controls, which relied on a forward elevator, wing-warping and a rear rudder, were the basis of the Wrights' "flying machine" patent in 1906. The Wrights flew the glider at Kitty Hawk almost 1,000 times in September and October 1902, soaring for up to 26 seconds and for as far as 622 feet. They stored the glider at Kitty Hawk over the winter before flying it again in 1903 and making some modifications to it.

The 1902 glider was abandoned at Kitty Hawk at the end of 1903. A single wingtip of the original plane remains and is on display at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum in Washington. The Smithsonian also has a full replica of the plane.

The glider has a 32-foot wingspan and weights 112 pounds.