Virginia Tech Has Links to First Flight and its 100th Anniversary

BLACKSBURG, Va., Nov. 20, 2003 – When the world celebrates on Dec. 17 the 100th anniversary of the flight of the first flying machine ever to take off from ground level and land under the control of its pilot, Virginia Tech will have its own reasons to celebrate that 1903 flight--and the three that followed on the same day--of Orville and Wilbur Wright.

Two Virginia Tech alumni, Kevin Kochersberger of Honeoye Falls, N.Y., who received a bachelor's degree, master's degree and a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from the university in 1983, 1984, and 1994, respectively, and Terry Queijo of Trappe, Md., who earned her undergraduate degree in animal science in 1978, will take the place of Orville and Wilbur Wright, flying a reproduction of the brothers' four-cylinder, 600-pound glider in Kitty Hawk, N. C., where the first flight made history. The two alumni, who will be wearing period costumes, will flip a coin, much as the Wright brothers did, to see who flies first.

In addition to its alumni playing lead roles in the reenactment of the first flight, Virginia Tech's Special Collections department in University Libraries will exhibit a piece of the actual fabric that covered the first successful airplane. The fabric, just under two square inches certified as original by the Orville Wright Estate, is part of the department's Michael Collins Collection. It was presented to Collins, who circled the moon while Neal Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made their historic landing on the lunar surface, as a tribute to his achievements in space.

That fabric, sold under the name "Pride of the West" muslin, was purchased by the Wright brothers at Rikes department store in Dayton, Ohio, just a few blocks from their Wright Cycle Company building. Today that building houses, among other things, the office of Virginia Tech alumnus Leonard Simpson IV of Dayton, who received his master of architecture degree from the university in 1990. Simpson, a preservation architect for the National Park Service, served as preservation specialist and construction manager for the Wright-Dunbar Interpretive Center, a museum that opened as part of the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park on June 25, 2003, as a precursor to the centennial celebration. Exhibits in the museum focus on the Wright brothers' printing and bicycle businesses, their family history and their association with poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. While Simpson was enrolled at Virginia Tech, he worked for a summer as a seasonal park ranger at the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kitty Hawk.

Shortly after the Dec. 17th anniversary, the "With Good Reason" public radio program will examine the 100th anniversary and beyond, which will feature Jim Marchman, a Virginia Tech professor of aerospace and ocean engineering, discussing the future of aviation.