Flying the Wright way, Nick Engler lands in India with an inspiring mission

Written by: Dr Anantha Krishnan M

Today is the 112th anniversary of the historic 12-second flight by Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk, (North Carolina) in the United States. On December 17, 1903, Wright Brothers' Flyer managed a 12-seconds flight, which eventually changed the face of mankind.

Plane lovers across the world celebrate December 17 as Aviation Day and remember the contribution of two hardworking bicycle mechanics in Wright Brothers. They still continue to inspire aviators for gifting early lessons in the art of flying.

Nick Engler, Director, Wright Brother Aeroplane Company, at VITM.

Almost four decades after Flyer's maiden flight, Walchand Hirachand set up the Hindustan Aircraft Ltd (now Hindustan Aeronautics Limited) in Bangalore in 1940, now Bengaluru, the undisputed Aviation Capital of India.

On this special day, OneIndia caught up with Nick Engler, the man on a globetrotting mission, spreading the story of Wright Brothers by setting up Flyer simulators. One such simulator went live at the Visvesvaraya Industrial and Technological Museum (VITM) last year, the first from Flyer series in the country.

Nick, is the Director of Wright Brother Aeroplane Company (WBAC) in Dayton, Ohio. In his first ever visit to India, Nick says he became fascinated with the Wright Brothers in 1984, when he learned to fly. Excerpts from an interview.

Our mission is to inspire youngsters through Wright Brothers

I first became fascinated with the Wright Brothers in 1984 when I learned to fly. As I was taking my pilot's training, I read ‘Kill Devil Hill: Discovering the Secret of the Wright Brothers' by Harry Combs.

Combs was an engineer and he tells the story of the Wright Brothers from an engineer's point of view. Fifteen years later, as the centennial anniversary of the Wright Brothers' first flights loomed, I decided to start the Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company.

A view of the screen when you are on Flyer simulator.

Our mission was to use the story of the Wright Brothers to inspire young people to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

We simply name our simulators after the airplanes whose flights they simulate. The simulator we installed at the VITM was the latest version of our 1903 Wright Flyer Flight Simulator. This is the 12th simulator that we've built and the eighth 1903 Flyer simulator.

You can also build your own scenery, even an airport

The 1903 Wright Flyer Flight Simulator uses Microsoft Flight Simulator X (FSX) as the basic simulation software. Microsoft was issued software development kits along with FSX that allow computer-savvy pilots to build and fly their own virtual airplanes.

You can also build your own scenery - even an airport! We not only built the 1903 Wright Flyer for this simulation, we also built the scenery in and around Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, USA, where the Wright's first flights took place.

Nick Engler demonstrates the Flyer simulator.

To fly the Flyer, first you lie prone on the wing, just as the Wright Brothers did. There is lever in front of you for your left hand - this controls pitch and allows you to climb or descend. Your hips rest in a cradle, which controls roll and yaw.

By moving your hips right or left, you can turn the airplane right or left - just like the Wright brothers. The screen in front of you shows that the Flyer is ready for take-off, resting beside the sheds that the Wright Brothers built at Kitty Hawk in 1901 and 1903. The weather conditions are exactly the same as they were on December 17, 1903 when the brothers made their first flights -- partly cloudy, with a 29 kph wind out of the North, gusting to 42 kph.

You take off with just a few minutes of fuel, just enough to fly a complete circle and make a landing. You can turn right and circle over the Kitty Hawk Museum and the Wright Brothers Memorial, and then try to land back beside the sheds. Or you can turn left and attempt a landing on an actual runway at First Flight Airport.

Lots of people are showing interest in simulators

Many people have shown interest in setting up Flyer simulators. There has been some talk of preparing an exhibit to commemorate a proud moment in Indian pioneer aviation.

It was on February 18, 1911, pilot Henri Pequet flew a Humber-Sommer biplane from Allahabad across the Ganges River to Naini carrying 6000 pieces of mail with special 25-rupee stamps and postmarks.

The historic first flight of Wright Brothers.

This was the first true airmail flight as well as first air cargo flight of any sort. Not only was this an important event in India, it was a seminal moment in world aviation history, opening up an entirely new use for the airplane.

There has been talk of building an exhibit that would include a simulator to recreate this historic flight, but I'd rather not say with whom.

Out of respect for our clients, we never mention names until the contract has been signed. That way, we don't raise any false hopes.

My wife is my co-pilot in all my missions

If I am the CEO of the WBAC, then my wife does the job of the COO and CFO. Of course, the WBAC is too small an organisation for titles like CEO and CFO, but suffice to say we run it together.

We also head up the actual projects. When we have an aircraft to build, I create the airframe while Mary Jane covers it. When we build a simulator, I do the cabinetry while Mary Jane applies the finishes.

Fortunately on this trip to India, there wasn't much for Mary Jane to do. The simulator arrived in great shape without a scratch on the finish. So she was along mostly to help me enjoy the trip.

She is my co-pilot in all my missions!

Don't miss Part-II: Bangalore traffic is one of the Wonders of the World

(The writer is a seasoned aerospace and defence journalist in India. Currently a Post-Doctoral Fellow with University of Mysore, he is a Consulting Editor (Defence) with OneIndia. He tweets @writetake.)

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