Conserving the Wright Brothers’ 1905 Flyer III: An interdisciplinary and logistical challenge

Deborah Bede and Malcolm Collum


Few artifacts pose the challenge of conserving a wide range of materials on such a large scale as an airplane. With a wooden structure hidden by large expanses of cotton fabric, supporting a variety of metals comprising the engine and propulsion system – all tied together with a network of tensioned wires – treatment of individual elements required the expertise of a team of conservators and careful coordination.

The Wright Flyer III was restored in the late 1940’s under the supervision of Orville Wright, and has been on exhibit in Wright Hall at Carillon Historical Park in Dayton, Ohio since that time. This building did not have climate control until 2000, and apart from routine dusting and a few minor treatments, the flyer had not been give any preservation treatments for over fifty years. Lubricating oils had hardened, exposed metal surfaces began to corrode, wooden elements broke and the unbleached cotton fabric was stained, yellowed and soiled. This presentation will explore the treatment challenges posed by this project and describe their resolution.

2002 | Miami | Volume 9