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Wright Modified B Flyer — the evolved trainer

25 July 2012

Wright Modified B Flyer — the evolved trainer

Wright Modified B Flyer at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force — photo courtesy of Jayne Davis

The first aircraft produced in large numbers by the Wright Brothers was the B Flyer. The aircraft seen in these images was purchased by the U.S. Army Air Service (ancestor to the U.S. Air Force) in 1911 and shows how changed from the original design this model was. There is a more powerful engine, of course, there is always a more powerful engine. But there are major aeronautical advancements the Wright Brothers had to accept from other designers, as well. Aileron use is the most noticeable of these design philosophy departures — the wing warping mechanism designed to imitate a bird’s wing contour manipulation was gone. The addition of wheels to allow for non catapult take offs, as well as better ground handling, was also a design change the Wrights had originally been against. Another was the elimination of linkages between wing roll control and rudder — the Wrights had first linked the roll and yaw control surfaces but it worked in an opposite — and potentially lethal — fashion once out of ground effect (ground effect was not well understood at the time, after all, controlled flying under power was new) but would reappear decades later with the ERCO Aircoupe.

Two pilot points about this aircraft: Howard Rinehart (Wright Brothers Company test pilot) used this aircraft in his flight instruction in 1916 and in 1924 it was last flown by Lt. John A. Macready (U.S. Army Air Service) in the Dayton OH International Air Races. Lt. Macready will be the subject of a future post for his pioneering of high altitude flight — over 40,000 feet (12,120m) in open cockpit aircraft.

This must be the oldest aircraft on exhibit in the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, or at the least one of the few oldest, and is on loan from the U.S. Air Force Museum Foundation.

These images of this Wright Modified B Flyer were taken by Jayne Davis, who courteously lent these images to this blog under her copyright, and is displayed in the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force — which provides this fact sheet.

Ailerons, dual seats, stronger engine, no more cross control linkage and landing gear mark the differences between the Modified B Flyer and the original Wright Flyer design — photo courtesy of Jayne Davis

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Rick Young permalink
    25 July 2012 08:32

    The three points you say the Wrights were against are somewhat misleading. Ailerons were anticipated in the Wright patent but less effective than wing warping at the low speeds the Wrights pioneer aircraft flew. At higher speeds, ailerons become more effective. The Wrights were not against adding wheels. All their early aircraft took off on small wheels that were part of their undercarriage, the skids were better than wheels in landing on the unprepared surfaces prior to the development of airfields. Your comment on the interlinked warp and rudder operation having something to do with ground effect is simply wrong. There were serious and valid reasons for the design decisions made by the Wrights and must be understood in the context of time to be properly appreciated. The Wrights were always forward thinking and willing to evolve their designs. That aside, I appreciate your writing about this important aircraft.

    • travelforaircraft permalink
      25 July 2012 15:56

      Hello Rick,

      First, thank you for your intellectually based response as well as politeness. I cannot say I entirely disagree with you either. I do have these thoughts without pretending to be an expert. As I imagine you have done I have read much on the subject and it is a hard subject to unwrap — there is much emotion, dogma and confusing references created during the lenghthy legal proceedings in regard to the Wright vs. Curtiss lawsuits. Here are my thoughts:

      1) I have not read the Wright patent applications, but my understanding from the review of them (in a book I reviewed and posted on called “The WRight Story) is that the patent application was vague without mention of ailerons. It appears that the Wrights wanted to imitate birds as much as possible and there is no faulting with that, naturally.
      2) The Wrights interlinked ailerons with the rudder and it worked at low speeds — but reversed out of ground effect at higher speeds. At low speeds (in ground effect) they had opposite rudder input to slow down the outside wing in turn lest it produce too much lift and roll the aircraft into the ground. At low speeds the speed differential between the outside wing and inside wing is high — less so ay higher speeds. So you are right, it has less to do with actually being within ground effect and I did not mean to confuse, my apolgies. I meant to observe that the Wrights, as pioneers, were flying within ground effect without knowing the phenomen existed. Being the first to have controlled flight under power they would be the first to fly within ground effect for substantial periods of time.
      3) Of course the Wrights made serious design decisions, they deliberately researched and made design decisions based upon data — I did not mean otherwise and agree with you. Their early aircraft took off with a catapult and rail system — aeronautically very efficient — later wheels were added to assist with ground handling — but actual undercarriage came at the insistence of the U.S. Army and competitors (there is nothing wrong in that — it showed the Wrights did accept change).

      All the above aside — this post, as well as others regarding the Wrights, serve to clarify what the Wrights accomplished and to recall other significant pioneers such as Glenn Curtiss who I feel are undeservedly lesser known. I grew up having been educated the Wrights had invented flight but of course history is rarely of single dimension — simply put I was taught incorrectly. It was only recently that I began reading into what the Wrights did and what of their legacy we practically retain as opposed to dogma. I write about what I have found only after reserach and cross reference so I am not trying to pull heroes down — I am trying to solidy their positions in history.

      I hope this helps and look forward to response, whether pro or con, as intellectual discussion is always a treat.


      • Rick Young permalink
        25 July 2012 22:35

        Thanks Joe. I am happy you received my comments in the spirit in which they were offered. Patents, by their nature are designed to be as vague as possible and contain only the essential principle intended and deliberately avoid giving away other design secrets. The control principle patented by the Wrights was system of active dynamic flight control, as opposed to the other control systems – weight shift employed by Lilienthal and Pilcher or automatic stability employed by Penaud and Langley or a hybrid combination used by Chanute and Herring. What the Wrights understood is that there is a relationship between lateral and longitudinal control. Every pilot understands this. The Wright aircraft after 1904 all had the ability to control the rudder separately. Most people don’t understand how the Wright system actually worked.
        Wheels were never a new design concept. They existed for as long as folks attempted to build aircraft. The Wright catapult launch system utilized a wheeled undercarriage that was left behind so that the aircraft would quickly come to a stop when landed on unprepared and uneven surfaces and not destroy itself, which it would have if wheels were used. The Wright aircraft preceded airfields.
        There are no inventors that come close to the Wright brothers. Their scientific and technological discoveries were revolutionary. They made pioneering discoveries on the aeronautical forces on wings. Discovered the errors in the Smeaton coefficient. Were the first to engineer a successful structural design that could sustain the incredible forces necessary for safe flight. Created the successful first propeller technology, combining the momentum theory with the blade element theory. Made extensive wind tunnel tests that allowed them to understand how varying wing shapes affect lift and drag.
        They received the pioneering patent controlling flight control. They set or broke every significant aeronautical record from 1901 to 1911. They established aircraft businesses and partnerships in England, France, Germany and the United States.
        They developed flight schools with a primary focus on flight and aircraft safety and trained hundreds of the world’s best pilots. They successfully defended their patent against dishonest and unscrupulous aeronautical profiteers.
        The Wrights were honest to a fault and have been treated poorly by the uninformed and biased throughout history.
        That is just of the top of my head, but I wanted to get back to you right away.
        I have studied the Wright brothers for thirty-five years and built and/or flown sixteen reproductions of Wright aircraft. This work necessitated studying the Wright papers at the Library of Congress and the hundreds of amazing photographs the Wrights used to document their achievements. In tens of thousands of letters, notes, diaries and other documents I have never seen a single instance where they exaggerated or twisted facts much less found a distortion or a lie.
        They had their faults and weaknesses, but their intelligence, character and resolution are the reasons that they are the only Americans given a national memorial while still alive (Orville, Wilbur died in 1912 at 45.)

  2. David "Mac" McLay permalink
    25 July 2012 22:00

    Excellent post, Joe! Rick’s comment was also enlightening, to a degree, as was your follow-up response. Let the intellectual discourse continue!

    • travelforaircraft permalink
      26 July 2012 23:00

      Thank Mac and I quite agree — Rick has provided wonderful follow up! Intellectual discourse it is 🙂 Joe

  3. Rick Young permalink
    25 July 2012 22:50

    Joe, I forgot to reply fully to your thoughts about the inter-connected warp rudder system. I did mention that the Wright rudder and ailerons could be operated independently, but there is no difference between the operation of flight controls in ground effect or out of it. The main difference is in a reduction in drag. Most of the Wright flights in 1903 and 1904 were made in ground effect, but by 1905 and after, they were confident enough to make high flights. The main reason to make coordinated banked turns was not intended to slow down the outside wing, but to avoid stalling the inside, or low wing. Remember, in the early years, especially in their gliding and soaring experiments, they were trying to keep ground speeds as low as possible, so they were flying very close to stall speed. The increased drag caused by increasing the angle on the low wing could cause it to stall.

    • travelforaircraft permalink
      26 July 2012 23:08


      You’ve provided interesting points and counterpoints — all quite pleasing 🙂 I’m especially happy about the counterpoints. The book I referred to is objective, I think, but it does fall on the other side of the fence than some of your points so I am glad you have an opposing view. It’s the best way to work sort things out. Your opinion certainly carries much weight given your knowledge as well as almost rare experience. If you don’t mind, I’d like to take a day or so to collect my thoughts and respond. I am also happy to look up a new thing for me — the Smeaton coefficient 🙂

      Thanks again for the information and outlook you have — it is truly a pleasure to go back and resort what I’ve learned with what you’ve illustrated.



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