Young Eagles: Rolling without Ailerons

From Mary Dominiak

Last time, we talked about all airplanes having EARs that pilots can move to make the plane go up or down (Elevators); roll around to the left or right (Ailerons); and yaw or swing its nose to the left or right (Rudders). But the very first powered airplane, the Wright brothers’ famous 1903 Flyer, didn’t have ailerons, so – how did they get it to roll?

The brothers knew they had to figure out a controllable way to roll. They already knew that the shape of a wing affected its lift, so if there was a way to change that shape in flight, maybe you could get your plane to roll by increasing lift on one side while decreasing it on the other. But how to do that? Toying one day with an empty box from a bicycle inner tube, Wilbur Wright realized that by bending or twisting the ends of the box in opposite directions at the same time, he could warp the box around its center point. So why not build wings with that same kind of flexible box structure, with cables attached at each end so you could pull on the cable to warp or twist the tip of one wing in one direction, while bending the tip of the other wing in the opposite direction? Wing-warping was born!

Would you like to build your own wing-warping demonstrator? You can find instructions – where else? – right on YouTube! Here’s a link: https:// All it takes are things you probably have at home, such as cardboard, toothpicks, string, glue, and some basic tools.

Better yet: would you like to build and test fly your own Wright Flyer? You can do that online at Engineering the Wright Way, over on the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum website! It’s going to take a while for you to do it all, but you can save your work and pick up where you left off each time until you finish. When you’re finished, you even get to test out your plane in the flight simulator. So even if we can’t take you on Young Eagles flights right now, you can build and fly your own historic plane right here: https:// online/workshop/.