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Glider a slice of history in Miller

Miller resident Sean Smith explains constructian exact replicOctave Chanute's two-wing glider. The replicwill be erected Miller aquatorium Saturday. | Michael

Miller resident Sean Smith explains the construction of an exact replica of Octave Chanute's two-wing glider. The replica will be erected at the Miller aquatorium Saturday. | Michael Gonzalez~for Sun-Times Media

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Updated: September 17, 2014 6:06AM



GARY — Octave Chanute made history when he flew his 35-pound gliding machine 360 feet in 14 seconds on the beaches of Miller in 1896, well before Wilbur and Orville Wright flew Kittyhawk.

The exact replica of Octave’s history-making glider being erected Saturday at the Miller Aquatorium, made of steel and weighing in at 1,550 pounds, should last a lot longer, said one of its builders.

“For the most part, we’re hoping this glider will last 25 to 30 years,” said Shannon Smith, a Crown Point man who built the replica with his brother, Sean Smith, and other workers at Kids Stuff Play Systems in Gary.

“It was laborious,” Shannon Smith said. “It took 10 months of my life.”

The work was commissioned by the Aquatorium Society and will be dedicated at the Miller site as part of a weekend of fundraisers by the society.

With attendees offered box lunches, crews will raise the glider and install it atop a 25-foot metal pole in the Chanute courtyard of the aquatorium.

“It’s kind of unbelievable,” said George Rogge, longtime president of the society. “I didn’t think we could really, really build a plane out of steel. In fact, I’m surprised it looks as good as it does.”

Society members have been planning the glider for years, but it raised the last of the funds last year. They kept the $40,000 pricetag relatively low with donations like steel from Steel City, the pole from Great Lakes Signs and especially with free help from internationally recognized structural engineer Mark Stern, Rogge said.

“How do these things happen? Because it’s Miller,” he said. “We have just about every type of expert you ever wanted to find here in Miller, and they’re all willing to do something for the good of the community.”

Sean Smith, one of the builders, said he expects the glider to be a hit.

“I think for the community, I think they’ll like it,” he said “It was a unique project, a challenge. When you take something from late 1800s and you don’t have a lot of schematics, blueprints to go off, you’re really winging it.”

Along with comments from dignitaries, dedication ceremony attendees can watch crews lift the glider onto the metal pole, as long as weather forecasts for thunderstorm and high winds do not materialize, Rogge said.

Along with the dedication, the society will host a lecture by aviation expert Tom Crouch, former curator of the Smithsonian Air Space Museum in Washington D.C., an annual meeting and fundraiser at the aquatorium Saturday night.

Also, Chanute expert Simine Short will meet guests and sell copies of her books, and posters specially designed for the weekend will be available.

For more information, call (219) 938-8080.



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