Area man works to recreate Wright brothers’ airplane

MANASSAS — Ever since he was a high school student at Brentsville District High School in Nokesville, Ken Hyde’s thoughts were always on “the wild blue yonder skies.”

While still in high school, he took jobs at area airports. With his father, John Phillip Hyde, he even built an airplane from a kit that they both flew from a makeshift airstrip in Manassas. He earned both his pilots’ and mechanics’ licenses while still a high school student.

“Nothing other than wanting to fly really interested me,” he recalls.

Now Hyde is undertaking a project that will put him in the national spotlight.

He is building from scratch an exact reproduction of the 1903 Flyer built by Orville and Wilbur Wright and flown nearly 100 years ago in Kitty Hawk, N.C.

Hyde and his staff are building the replica in a hangar and machine shop adjacent to his home in Warrenton where he now lives with his wife, Beverly, who is also a part of the historic project.

“I owe a great deal of thanks to the surviving Wright family for their generous support of this project,” said Hyde, who loaned the left lower wing fabric taken from the original Flyer from Marianne Miller Hudec, great-grandniece of the Wright brothers. Hyde is using the wing fabric in his effort to duplicate the original flying machine.

Hyde noted the Wrights’ early prototype aircraft was destroyed and other than the fabric, he is working only from grainy black and white photographs.

For Hyde, it is important that 100 years from now the Wright brothers’ work is preserved for future generations to study and understand what the two remarkable men from Dayton, Ohio, accomplished.

When Hyde’s plane is completed in December, it will be taken in sections in a tractor trailer to air shows and museums around the country and then shipped to Kitty Hawk, where it will be flown on Dec. 17, 2003, as the centerpiece of the 100th anniversary of the historic first flight.

Hyde founded the “Wright Experience” in 1996 with the objective to research, redesign, remanufacture, test, analyze and document authentic Wright brothers gliders, powered flyers, original engines and propellers.

Among his crew is Larry Parks, who works full time for BAE Systems in Manassas but is on “loan” one day a week to the Wright plane project.

He is working on a propeller with antique tools to duplicate the prop the Wrights had on their first aircraft.

“It’s very exciting to be a part of such a project … and knowing that you are becoming a part of something real special,” said Parks.

A long resume

Born April 26, 1939, after graduation, Hyde went on to work as an airplane mechanic for Capital Airlines and in 1965 he got his pilot’s license and flew with American Airlines until his retirement in 1999 after 34 years of flying.

A 2000 inductee into Virginia Aviation Hall of Fame, Hyde’s passion for aviation came at an early age. His father’s interest was quickly passed on to him. Afternoon family car rides always seemed to end up at local airports.

“Charlie Kulp, the renowned ‘Flying Farmer’ had a big influence on me as we both loved to fly,” said Hyde, whose father was a telegraph operator at the Manassas train depot for many years for Southern Railroad.

Hyde once hangared his J-4 plane at the Donation Libeau Air Field a strip carved out of a pasture field on a farm outside Manassas.

In 1965, he went to work for American Airlines and founded Virginia Aviation, an antique aircraft restoration company. He first gained national attention as the restorer of a number of vintage aircraft when his restored Clipped-Wing Monocoupe “Little Butch” took EAA Grand Champion honors in 1975.

He also won EAA grand national champion honors in 1987 with his 1918 Curtiss Jenny. His list of restored projects for museums include the National Air and Space Museum’s Garber facility in Silver Hill, Md; the Cradle of Aviation Museum; EAA Museum; San Diego Aerospace Museum; and the Virginia Aviation Museum in Richmond.

It was in 1992 that Hyde first turned his attention to the Wright brothers. The Army Aviation Museum at Fort Rucker, Ala., commissioned him to build a reproduction of the 1911 Wright Model B that had become the Army’s first practical airplane.

He discovered that the Wrights put very little of their work on paper and that it would take a full-time commitment to tell the entire story of what the Wrights had accomplished.

That commitment led Ken and Beverly to become fully involved in the Wright Experience. Besides managing the entire project, Ken works side by side with his team.

Beverly has become an expert seamstress stitching wing covers for the gliders, kites and aircraft. It is their eye for detail and determination to get things right that gives them an edge above all others, they said.

They plan to build all of the Wrights’ machines from the 1899 kite through the 1911 Model “B,” their first production aircraft. But the one that will capture the nation’s attention is the 1903 “Kitty Hawk” Flyer which had only four short flights, but revolutionized flight as we know it today.

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