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Restoring History...
The Wright 1911 Model B Flyer

1911 Wright Model B
Larger view (265K)

2001: Monday, March 26 | Tuesday, March 27 | Wednesday, March 28

There comes a time in every exhibit's existence when the condition of precious artifacts must be evaluated if they are to last for the enjoyment of even more generations of museum visitors. In the spring of 2001, a very special artifact, tattered and worn from years of delighting young and old aviation enthusiasts, was carefully removed from The Franklin Institute's Aviation Hall. The Wright Brothers' 1911 Model B biplane, after careful restoration, was returned to the Institute in 2003—just in time for the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers' first flight.

The Wright Model B was the first plane manufactured in quantity by the Wright Brothers. It was the first time Wilbur and Orville used a rear stabilizer. The plane has skids and wheels, allowing for take-off and landing on any level field. The Wright Brothers enforced a strict policy for those interested in acquiring one of their flying machines; in order to buy a plane from them, you had to first take flying lessons at their factory in Ohio. Wilbur and Orville shipped the plane to the customer only when they felt that person was capable of flying it. In 1911, a Model B biplane cost about $5,000. This particular Model B, purchased by a young Philadelphian named Grover Cleveland Bergdoll in 1912 and donated to The Franklin Institute in 1933, took to the skies for about 748 flights before being placed in storage.

A restoration team from Aeroplane Works in Ohio restored the flyer. This log documents the takedown of the plane, completed over three days in March of 2001.

Mouseover the images for short descriptions. Click on the hyperlinked text below the thumbnails for larger images.

Log of the Wright Model B Takedown

Monday, March 26, 2001

9AM: The restoration team, along with Franklin Institute engineers and contractors, started lowering the Model B. The plane was supported from above and below.

11:45AM: The biplane was lowered from a pulley system above while being supported underneath near the rear of the plane by a small lift. The plane rested safely on the floor by noon.

Securing the plane from above and below
   32K, 384K
The lift supports the rear of the plane
   33K, 386K
Securing the connection to the beam in the ceiling
   27K, 383K

Over the course of the afternoon, the restoration team vacuumed sections of the rear of the plane. They went about cleaning the wings, struts, and wires, and loosening bolts. They also demonstrated how the controls move the wings, tail, and rudder, which were all in working condition.

Tuesday, March 27, 2001

2:45PM: The team began tagging parts of the plane for catalogue purposes. Everything—every piece—will eventually go back in the exact same place on the plane, so tagging the parts correctly was very important. The workers knew exactly which tags went where, evidence that the team had done a lot of preparation and possessed great knowledge of the Model B.
(For examples, labels read: "S1"= Strut 1; "LW"= Left Wing)

The tail (back) of the plane was removed first. Workers loosened the cables and wires that connected the controls at the front to the rear of the plane (those that work the rudder, etc). Then the entire back section was detached, including the wires and cables.

Rear of the biplane
     29K, 223K
Wires attached near the controls connect to the rear of the plane. Engine and seat can be seen here as well.
     35K, 280K

For a clearer perspective on the description of the plane that follows, imagine that you are the pilot, viewing the flying machine from your position in one of its corduroy seats...

3:30PM: The front right center strut was hammered out from underneath.

Workers cut the center wires (above the seats) that attach all the way to the tip of both wings. These many "landing and flying wires" are attached by eyelets.

Right Wing: Workers took the back center strut off first, then removed the front center one. The right bottom wing was removed first, then the top wing.

The restoration team demonstrated that the control assembly of the plane is on hinges—the Wright Brothers probably swung it up toward the seats for transportation/shipping purposes.

The right side of the plane
   33K, 389K
View of the right wing and struts
   29K, 237K
Torn right wing
   28K, 289K

The Left Wing: The back center strut was removed first, then the front center strut. The left bottom wing was removed, then the top wing. (This was done in the same manner as the right wing.)

The wings of the plane were extremely light, especially if compared to airplane wings of today! Two people were able to carry each wing. One worker estimated them to be about 20 pounds each.

4:10PM: Only the middle structure of the plane existed at this point. The workers began loosening the end struts.

The left and right blinders were removed. (Square panels of material attached to struts near the top of the plane.)

The left side of the plane. Note the square `blinder.'
   31K, 382K
View of the left wing and struts
   33K, 386K
Model B identification
   26K, 217K

Two of the team members began building shelves in the truck that would carry the pieces of the Model B to Ohio. All parts of the disassembled plane were eventually strapped down for safe transport.

Workers removed the control assembly from the plane.

Until about 7:30PM in the evening, the restoration team removed the propellers and took the control assembly apart.

Wednesday, March 28, 2001

9:45AM: The engine was securely fastened and then raised up and out of the plane with a small crane. Workers placed it on wooden planks for later transporting.

10AM: Restoration team removed the top center wing, then removed the remaining eight struts.

11AM: The team tipped the remaining piece (bottom center wing) on its front edge to remove the wheel/skid assembly.

The wheel and skid assembly
34K, 239K

11:30AM: Left skid was detached, then the right skid.

By 11:45AM, there was no "airplane" left to be seen, but all the pieces of one were still in the exhibit hall.

By about 1PM, the restoration team finished building most of the shelves in the truck, and prepared to load the plane's parts in.

2:30PM: Parts of the Wright flyer were carefully loaded into the truck and secured. The wings were loaded onto the shelves that had been built, and then were tied down. The struts were wrapped and tied together in bundles.

Can you fit a plane into a truck?
25K, 276K

In the early morning hours of Thursday, March 29, 2001, the restoration team pulled out of the museum's loading dock, headed for Ohio with a huge part of Franklin Institute history in pieces in the back of the truck. Now, take a look at some documentation of the plane's actual restoration...

 


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