Five separate groups of amateur aviators are vying to walk in the footsteps of aerospace pioneers Orville and Wilbur Wright. The goal of each organization is to build a reproduction of the Wright Flyer, the first aircraft to achieve the age-old dream of controlled and powered flight.

They hope to get their flying machines airborne on December 17, 2003, to mark the centennial of the Wright brothers’ landmark achievement, which has been described by Time magazine as the day "the era of the air age began and the world was never the same. Their invention would create a new industry and revolutionize transportation, commerce and communication throughout the globe."

During each recreation attempt in different parts of the United States, the replica aeroplanes will fly low and travel at only 30 mph, the same speed flown by the Wright brothers. Each pilot will control the machine while lying on his stomach between the wings of the biplane, just as Orville did a century before.

The Wright Redux Association (Glen Ellyn, IL) is the smallest and most grassroots effort. Although it has the backing of the Museum of Science and Industry (Chicago) and the National Geographic Society (Washington, DC), most of the non-profit Wright Redux Association’s funding has come from local citizens and businesses. To find out more, click www.wrightredux.org.

In contrast, several rival groups in other parts of the country have some deep-pocketed backers. For instance, the Wright Experience (Warrenton, VA) reportedly has a $2 million budget thanks to sponsorship by the Experimental Aircraft Association (Oshkosh, WI) and Ford Motor Co. (Dearborn, MI). Its aircraft has been chosen to fly during special centennial celebrations at the Wright Brothers National Memorial in North Carolina. For more details, click www.countdowntokittyhawk.com

The Wright Experience and Wright Redux Association both claim they are building authentic reproductions, using the same type of materials, such as ash and spruce wood wings covered with muslin cloth. In contrast, other groups are building planes with 21st century technology. For instance, instead of traditional muslin and spruce, one team is using kevlar and graphite composites, which results in a 40 percent reduction in weight.

The Los Angeles chapter of the American Institute of Aeronautics & Astronautics is constructing a replica of the Wright Flyer in conjunction with the California Institute of Technology. It also has backing from several aerospace companies and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, which tested the aircraft at its Mountain View, CA, wind tunnel. For more details, click www.wrightflyer.org.

A group of students at Utah State University (Logan, UT) are building a replica of the 1905 version of the Wright Flyer with backing from the US Air Force. For more information, click http://wrightflyer.usurf.usu.edu.

The fifth and final group of historical aviators, Flugmaschine Wright, is backed by the Virginia Aviation Museum (Sandston, VA). For more details, click www.vam.smv.org

Numerous celebrations and special events are planned for next year to celebrate the centennial of flight. For more information, check out the following Web sites:

www.centennialofflight.gov

www.firstflightnc.com

www.first-to-fly.com

www.flight100.org

www.inventingflight.org

www.larc.nasa.gov/2003

www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/on-line/flights