Machine Design

Reverse engineering the Wright Brothers’ propellers

On December 17, 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright became the first to achieve powered flight.

That same day, the enterprising brothers gained another distinction, becoming the first pilots to fail to properly tie down their airplane. A gust of wind flipped the 40-ft Wright Flyer, smashing the plane and propellers. The national treasure would never fly again.

Fast forward 100 years. A group of aeronautical enthusiasts set out to recreate the original '03 Flyer. They wanted to make replicas of the original 8.5-ft propellers. But all that remained was a little more than half of a propeller stored at the National Archives. New props were reverse engineered from the original fragment. Technicians captured the shape of the fragment with a FaroArm (contact digitizer), then recreated the missing section in software. From the new CAD file, a machining program cut duplicate propellers from a blank of laminated wood.

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