Friday FOIA Fun: Broken Wood and Torn Fabric

Back on October first of this year, if you’d been traveling through the right part of southwest Ohio at the right time of the morning, you might have come across a fairly peculiar sight in a muddy field near Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Wright-Patterson is, among other things, home to the National Museum of the United States Air Force – and is, if you believe in certain conspiracy theories, where the Roswell UFO wreckage and the extraterrestrials found aboard it were taken, never to be seen again.

If you’d been at the Huffman Prarie Flying Field – the “world’s first airport”, and now a national park – at the right time back on October first, your thoughts could have been excused for drifting to the Roswell wreckage and thoughts of UFOs, because this is what you would have seen:

No, Ohio wasn’t invaded by extraterrestrials; the explanation is a bit more mundane: a replica of the Wright Flyer III crashed on a test flight that morning.

Yes, that really is – or was – an airplane, believe it or not. A bit worse for wear, to be sure…

Rescue personnel from Wright-Patterson arrived to do their thing; here two intrepid rescue personnel search the wreckage for survivors:

…and here one stands by with a hose to make sure the jumble of wood and fabric wasn’t destroyed by fire:

These photos were taken by one of the USAF personnel who was on hand after the crash, and were released this week in response to a FOIA request. Why? Well, this post from early last year has proved popular, suggesting the popular fascination with accident- and disaster-voyeurism extends to aviation mishaps – and, let’s face it, how often do you see photos of wrecked pre-WWI aircraft, replicas or otherwise?

The pilot – and builder of the replica – one Mark Dusenberry – was injured in the crash, and was airlifted to a hospital, where he was still recovering a week later. That’s not surprising when you consider that this wasn’t exactly a gentle mishap:

That’s a look at the four-cylinder engine, by the way.

It’s not the first time he’s crashed in this plane, and I’m sure it won’t be the last – though here’s hoping it’s the worst, as I’d say he was pretty lucky to survive, all things considered.

According to the USAF news story about the crash, the aircraft is an authentic reproduction, save for the use of modern turnbuckles and a different fabric for the wing covering. I’m not sure what the original fabric would have been – or what the fabric on the crashed replica is, for that matter – but this image below gives you a pretty good look at how it’s constructed:

Hard to believe we went from that to the B-2 ‘Spirit’ in less than one hundred years, isn’t it? Hell, it’s hard to believe the Wright Flyer is a plane – and even more amazing that it was designed, basically, by bicycle mechanics.

Some more info on pilot Mark Dusenberry and pictures of his Wright Flyer in better days can be seen on this page.

Published in: Geekiness, General, History | on October 16th, 2009| 1 Comment »

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  1. On 12/3/2009 at 8:40 am smathers Said:

    Found this and thought I should post it. People can contribute to his recovery if they want.