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Build & Fly The Wright Flyers

Practical Applications

Final Tuning for Wright Biplanes

Learning From the 1900 & 1901 Gliders

The First Powered Flight

TA Wright 1903 Kitty Hawk Flyer

Advanced Wing Structure

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  *Printing Instructions

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There seems still to be some controversy over just how wings provide lift. I personally have had several people disagree when I explained that a flat wing provides nearly as much lift as a cambered wing, without as much drag. One gentleman explained that he was a pilot, and that without a cambered wing a real airplane could not produce enough lift to fly. Another critic stated that the aerodynamics of flight were totally different for a toothpick sized aircraft, and that different laws applied to real airplanes, and real (cambered) wings.

Both of these gentlemen were partially correct, but both were wrong in the absoluteness of their arguments. My intent here is not to be controversial, but only to illustrate a point.

Wing shape (camber) causes effects that change the amount of lift a wing can generate, but the principles involved are the same no matter whether the aircraft is a modern airliner in size, or a toothpick glider. Likewise, the lift and control surfaces of toothpick sized aircraft have the same functions as wings, ailerons, elevators, and rudders on the real aircraft, for the same reasons.

A flat rigid wing (like a paper wing), large and strong enough to provide the lift necessary to get man off the ground, would be very difficult to build with today's best technology. In the Wright brothers day, it would not have been possible at all. This is a technical difference.

The fact is still the same, camber can increase lift, but it is not required for lift. Lift is primarily a function of the angle of attack. For more discussion on how wings work, see "Why We Go Up", Robert Kunzig, DISCOVER Magazine, April 2001.

The wing cross-section below shows how chord and camber are measured.

The chord of a wing is the measure of an imaginary line stretching from the leading edge to the trailing edge.
The camber of a wing is its measure from the top curved surface to that imaginary chord line. Most modern wings have both upper and lower camber.

The wing cross section above has under-camber. It is open on the bottom. A cambered wing produces more lift, and is stronger. In TA aircraft, flat paper wings can be made stronger, and more like the original aircraft, by adding camber. While making TA wings with no under-camber is possible, the resulting wings are heavier, tend to have worse warping problems, and can be difficult to assemble. A whole different book.

Leaving the lower surface of the wing open, however, causes a phenomenon known as under-camber. Most of the first airplanes were deliberately built with under-camber. Popular theory of the time held that while lift was generated by camber, increased lift or speed was possible from under-camber. For further discussion of under-camber in early aircraft, see "Undercambered Airfoils" by Caroll F. Gray, W.W.I Aero No. 170, November, 2000.

The main reason to resort to a cambered wing in TA aircraft is the increased rigidity of the paper wing. Especially in large TA aircraft, wings tend to sag as they get older. The Wright brothers' biplane designs help counter this effect also. An added benefit of the cambered wing for TA aircraft is realism. Many of the stability problems you will encounter will be recognizable when you read and explore accounts of the original pioneers and their aircraft flight.

How To Add Camber

  Bend the leading edge of your wing down. Your airplane will fly slower, glide farther.

Grasp the first wing between your thumb and fore-finger beginning at one side, about one sixteenth of an inch from the leading edge. Place the printed or traced side down, or away from you, just the way it will be mounted on the Wright aircraft. Press the leading edge of the wing down, bending it to the same shape along the entire width of the wing. Repeat this procedure for the second wing.

This simple modification changes the way your TA glider flies. Because of the wing's changed shape, the camber (and under camber) creates more lift and drag! Your aircraft may fly more slowly, but will probably fly farther with less thrust. Experiment by moving the cambering fold farther back on the wing, or making a second, shallower fold behind the first.


My purpose in writing and publishing THE TOOTHPICK AIRFORCE series is to share a concept I have enjoyed since I was very young. My children enjoyed building toothpick gliders, and I eventually had to show nearly every youngster in the neighborhood how to build them. I wrote the first book, REAL GLIDER REPLICAS (ISBN 0-9650751-1-7) when various parents asked for the instructions to send to their out of state relations. The TA Wright 1900, and 1901 gliders were designed especially for the Centennial of Flight, while the 1902 Wright glider and the Kitty Hawk Flyer are redesigned for simpler assembly and fewer parts. Both of those TA aeroplanes first appeared in BUILD AND FLY THE FIRST FLYERS (ISBN 0-9650751-2-5).

I worked out most of the bugs in building and flying toothpick airplanes when I was between 11 and 13 years old (1960 to 1963), growing up in Lakewood and Georgetown, Colorado. It all started in Georgetown, with an issue of Boy's Life. The magazine had an article and drawings describing a miniature rocket engine using a length of small soda straw, glued to a second section of straw. One end of the straw was to be glued shut, then packed full of match heads. We had an old coal stove, so kitchen matches were available. The second piece of straw was to be placed on a string, to act as a guide when the match heads were ignited. I remember it did not work very well.

I knew I could do better. The string was causing too much friction, I thought. First I attached wings, and tail empennage. I had great difficulty making the wings on both sides equal dimension-wise. My mother asked me if I had never made paper dolls, and I said I had not, somewhat annoyed (I was #7 of 8 children) so she really did not know which ones she had shown that particular trick to. She folded a piece of paper in half and had me cut out my wings and tail planes and I was very impressed.

My rocket powered airplanes burned up before they could get airborne, but I had a whole pile of stripped kitchen matches. Thus was borne the Matchstick Air Force. My mother wanted me to sell the idea to Boy's Life. Unfortunately their standard offer of the time was something like $35. Again, I thought I could do better.

It seemed that there was a continuing shortage of wooden matches to start the fire in the mornings, and in the mountains it could get very cold at night. My mother bought me a box of flat toothpicks, and the rest is history.

The Airforce Toothpick

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