Cerro Villa Middle School club builds replica of the Wright brothers glider

Some enterprising students from Cerro Villa Middle School have certainly earned their wings.

Under the direction of STEM teacher Dan Baker, members of the Cerro Villa Makers Club have constructed a full-scale replica of the 1902 glider that was built and tested by the Wright brothers of Dayton, Ohio as they pursued powered flight.

The student-made version, 32 feet from wing tip to wing tip, now rests on pedestals in the campus auditorium.

Teacher with Wright brothers glider replica
STEM teacher Daniel Baker stands inside a life-sized replica of the Wright brothers glider built by students in Cerro Villa Middle Schools’ Makers Club.

The middle schoolers met once a week for two years to work on the project, believed to be the first of its kind in California. We’re told it was just about completed when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Not only did students employ precision artisanship to measure, design, cut, bend and shape metal and wood, they also learned to sew and perform complex calculations to engineer the wings with just the right camber to create lift, Baker said.

“None of us knew how to build an airplane — let alone a specialized airplane like this one,” he said. “We had to learn forgotten skills that were much more common back in 1902, like how to lash wooden sticks together with waxed twine, which is how the entire aircraft was fastened together. Not nails, not screws, just twine. Then there was wood bending, which is a craft that demands lots of trial and error to learn. We are all very excited about what we created.”

Cerro Villa Middle School, part of the Orange Unified School District, is located in the city of Villa Park. The aviation program at nearby Canyon High School inspired Baker to add a flight simulator to his career technical education and STEM lab, which in turn led to his interest in Orville and Wilbur Wright — and sparked the idea of a building the replica glider.

The project was made possible by a grant from the Villa Park Rotary Club. Custom metal parts were furnished by Rotarian Peter Giacobbi and Cerro Villa parent Steve Garner to use in place of the specialized hardware fabricated by the Wright brothers. The club also researched other modern materials, settling on long pieces of spruce wood for the wing lengths and ash wood for the glider’s ribs.

Once students can return to Cerro Villa campus, the Makers will get to carve their names into the struts and pose for pictures. Baker said he hopes they can take a field trip someday to the desert to see the unmanned aircraft lift off the ground like a kite, just as the Wright Brothers did more than 100 years ago to kick off the modern era of flight.

Here’s a closer look at the replica glider.