2003 Flight Forecast

2003 Flight Forecast
Daily Details

During the 2003 Flight Forecast season, be sure to visit this page every school day for some interesting information about meteorology, flight, and/or the Wright Brothers.
Wednesday, December 17, 2003
Weather Contest Results are in. Students from the United States and other countries correctly predicted the weather for the Centennial Celebration Day.

Why is wind speed measured at sea in knots but on land in miles per hour? It's difficult to measure distance on the shifting surface of the ocean, so sailors of long ago came up with a solution. They made a floating line (or rope) and knotted it at regular intervals, then spooled it out on the ocean surface as the ship sailed ahead. The number of knots spooled out in a given time showed the ship's speed. To convert wind speed from knots to miles per hour, multiply the knots by 1.15.
Here's Hawk!
Here's Kitty!
The 1903 Flyer was powered by a four-cylinder gasoline engine that weighed 200 pounds, including the weight of the fuel. The 12 horsepower engine was an original Wright Brothers design, built in their workshop in Dayton, Ohio by Charles E. Taylor, a highly-skilled mechanic. Mr. Taylor was vital to the success of the 1903 Flyer; without his craftsmanship and mechanical talents, the 1903 Flyer might not have flown!

The 1903 Flyer was the latest and best machine built by the Wright Brothers, but it followed a number of other mechanical constructions. Earlier, in their shop, they had invented a bicycle improvement that featured a self-oiling wheel hub. Before that, they had built the printing press that Orville used to publish his "West Side News."

An anemometer, or wind gauge, is an instrument for measuring the force and speed of wind. The earliest anemometer was invented by Thomas Romney Robinson (1793 - 1882). This gauge uses an arrangement of cups on a spindle to detect the wind and a series of clockwork connections to translate the speed of the rotating cups to a wind speed value. Octave Chanute, the Wright's French colleague, brought them a later anemometer made by Richard of Paris. Modern anemometers have both wind speed and wind direction sensors which can detect the least breeze and still withstand the strongest gales.

Have you ever wondered how meteorologists can know so much about tropical storms and hurricanes that are so far from land? They rely on brave people called hurricane hunters. U.S. Air Force officers and experts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Admnistration fly right through the storm, dropping probes which send data back to the plane constantly. Their computers process the information and send it via satelite to the central hurricane lab. At the same time, satelites are receiving and transmitting data from remote bouys and weather balloons, creating a huge pool of data. Supercomputers process the data and construct the weather models that we see on tv.

During the 1903 expedition, the Wright brothers endured some fierce overnight storms at their campsite. In a letter to his father, Wilbur described the storms in his typical, sytematic way, translating the severity into blanket measurements.
".. we .. have no trouble keeping warm at night. In addition to the classifications of last year, to wit—1, 2, 3, and 4 blanket nights—we now have 5 blanket nights, & 5 blankets & 2 quilts. Next come 5 blankets, 2 quilts & fire; then 5, 2, fire, & hot-water jug. This as far as we have got so far." A clever classification system!

Wilbur and Orville Wright were the middle children in a family of five, with two older brothers, Reuchlin and Lorin, and a younger sister Katherine. Wilbur was six years older than Orville, he was born on April 16, 1867 and Orville was born on August 19, 1871. Neither brother married and they worked together in their bicycle shop and on their airplane endeavors for their entire lives until Wilbur's death from typhoid fever on May 30, 1912. Katherine was a dedicated supporter of her brothers and a faithful letter writer from Dayton during their annual expeditions to Kitty Hawk.

There are thousands of land-based weather stations across the United States. For coastal areas, like Cape Hatteras, weather information from the ocean is extremely important too. The National Data Buoy Center map shows locations of these waterbound weather stations.

From the beginning, Wilbur Wright went about his research in a scientific way. He read and studied his father's books about bird flight and gliding. He found sources in his local library. He requested information from the Smithsonian Institution. He asked for advice from other flight pioneers such as Otto Lilienthal and Octave Chanute. Only after this careful research did the brothers begin to build their kites, gliders, and bi-planes for experimental testing.

Relative humidity is the ratio of the amount of water vapor actually in the air compared to the amount of water vapor the air can hold at that particular temperature and pressure. When the August temperature in Philadelphia is 90 degrees Fahrenheit and the relative humidity is 60% it can be close to unbearable and dangerous. Yet the same temperature in Phoenix, Arizona, where the relative humidity is 10%, can feel comfortable. The Heat Index combines air temperature and relative humidity and is a numerical "discomfort indicator," demonstarting how hot it actually feels. For an informal estimate, add together the Fahrenheit temperature and the relative humidity. If the sum is 140 or higher, start looking for an air-conditioned space!

Station Number Six of the U.S. Life-Saving Service in Kitty Hawk provided Wilbur and Orville Wright with the daily weather information needed to advance their exciting experiment. It was from that same station that Wilbur telegraphed the news of their successful flight on December 17, 1903. Built in 1874, Number Six was an observation and rescue point for shipwrecks happening off the North Carolina coast. Its crew took on extra work when the Wright Brothers arrived, helping move the various gliders the brothers built and being among the observers of their first powered flight. The U.S. Life-Saving Service became part of the United States Coast Guard Service.

Of all weather features, unpredictable wind was the biggest problem for Wilbur and Orville Wright during the three years of experiments leading up to their famous flight. Sometimes too light and other times over 40 mph, the wind blew down their tents and buildings, turned over and damaged their prototypes, constantly reshaped the dunes on Kill Devil Hills, and offered a dangerous challenge to piloting the experimental aircraft. While the brothers had deliberately sought a windy area to test their gliders, perhaps they sometimes found it “too much of a good thing.”

The speed of a falling raindrop can vary between 6 and 15 miles per hour when there is no wind. The speed depends on the size of the raindrop. In light rain, the drop size is around 0.05 inches. In a heavy thundershower, drops can be 0.16 inches! But, large raindrops do not last long! Air pressure causes the drops to break more quickly. It's safe to try and measure raindrops, but be careful if they turn to hail! In a hailstorm, a 1.6 inch hailstone can hit the ground at 44 miles per hour!

Hurricanes form when tropical ocean water heats up and the air pressure above it drops, causing thunderstorms and very strong winds on the ocean surface. The storm increases strength by picking up energy from the warm water vapor rising from the ocean surface. Each storm that forms is given a name. Go to Atlantic Hurricane Names to see the names of future hurricanes. Is your name on the list?

On November 27, 1899, Wilbur Wright wrote to the U.S. Weather Bureau for information on the windiest places in the United States. Wilbur made a "request for wind velocities, Chicago or vicinity for August through October." Indeed, the Weather Bureau recommended "The Windy City"—Chicago, Illinois—but the Wright Brothers realized that too many people would see their design. They also ruled out Sioux City, Iowa and Amarillo, Texas. That left Kitty Hawk, North Carolina where the beach is "about one mile wide, clear of trees or high hills and extends for nearly sixty miles same condition. The wind blows mostly from the North and Northeast September and October."

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