People may have laughed at the Wright brothers' first aeronautical contraption, but a similar experiment is unfolding in a plastic-sheeted Quonset-style hut a few yards from a cornfield north of Alliance.
The spirit of the Wright brothers has kept Brian Martin and Robert Rist plugging away at putting together a prototype of their patented Dynalifter hybrid. They announced Thursday that their prototype has been completed and is ready for testing.
And sometime this spring, when the weather is better, they'll find out whether their dream will fly.
They're treating their prototype of a blimp/airplane hybrid ``like a fragile egg that we pull out under perfect conditions,'' said Martin, 32.
They've built it extra-sturdy, Martin said, to make sure the prototype survives the testing period.
``Edison tried his light bulb a thousand times. I don't want to do this (assembling a prototype for testing) a thousand times,'' Martin said.
It will be up to veteran test pilot Forrest Barber, a former Taylorcraft employee, to get the Dynalifter off the ground.
Barber, 63, will be seated in the exposed cockpit under the belly of the Dynalifter when the test is conducted. ``It will be quite an experience,'' he said.
The 120-foot-long, two-seat prototype is constructed from the kind of nylon used on the sails of sailing boats. Shaped like an airplane, it has a patented interior bridgelike structure. It will get lift from 16,500 cubic feet of helium and two small ultralight engines.
Martin said he and his partner have ``raised and spent'' $500,000 to get this far on the Dynalifter. Most of the money went to feasibility studies and engineering work.
``We've done everything on paper and everything on a computer and everything in a wind tunnel that you can do'' to test the concepts behind the Dynalifter, Martin said.
Martin and Rist hope the Dynalifter will bring in a new transportation era. They see it as a way to move goods at a lower cost than jets and at a higher speed than ships.
They believe the Dynalifter also could be used in emergency situations, such as Hurricane Katrina, to transport supplies.
Additionally, the Dynalifter might have military uses, such as delivering equipment and supplies to sites that might not be accessible by roads and bridges.
Martin said he and Rist have had a dozen meetings with Pentagon officials.
The two founded Ohio Airships Inc. in 1999 to develop the prototype. They envision investors or another company putting their idea into production.
Their prototype is about one-eighth the size of their plan for a 990-foot-long Dynalifter Heavy Freighter. They also have plans for a smaller version at 761 feet.
Like many inventors, Martin and Rist have faced skepticism that their idea will work.
The two, who met while working at Mount Union College's computer department, don't have an aeronautical background.
``We don't even know what not to know,'' Martin said.
But what they do have, Martin said, is a willingness to experiment.
``The Wright Brothers did it, too,'' he said.
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