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MIT pranksters wing it for Wright celebration

Flyer replica placed atop school's dome

At the official celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Wright brothers' first flight in North Carolina yesterday, guests including Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin groaned as a $1.2 million reproduction of the Flyer landed in a puddle.


But MIT students had much better luck with their version, which mysteriously appeared yesterday morning 150 feet in the air, atop the institute's Great Dome. The wood-and-canvas plane, with a 45-foot wingspan, was the latest in the storied history of "hacks" -- ingenious, harmless pranks -- carried out by mischievous and brainy students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The 1903 Flyer replica, with blinking red lights and an inflatable pilot in period sportscoat and derby hat, was hoisted up and cabled to the dome in impressive fashion, said David Barber, who, as head of "hack removal," got a call yesterday from the anonymous hackers telling him how best to disassemble the plane.

Despite the many rules hackers break, MIT tends to wink at them rather than punish. Six hackers were spotted leaving the building around 6 a.m. Not only were they not arrested, but an officer helped one retrieve a forgotten laptop.

After adding some additional cabling for safety, Barber decided to leave the plane up until this morning, in honor of the Wright brothers' accomplishment and that of the hackers.


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