Sept 17, 1908: Testing the Wright Military Flyer at Fort Myer, VA
On this day in September 17,1908, the first military airplane in the world, built by the Wright brothers for the Army Signal Corps, made its first flight at Fort Myer, Virginia. Less than a thousand people witnessed the first flight at Fort Myer, because the general public was still doubtful that powered flight had been achieved. But Lewis Reed was there… and to commemorate that milestone, I have posted six original snippets of history that Lewis Reed captured through the lens of his camera that day.
Five years after the first successful flight at Kitty Hawk, Orville Wright and Thomas E. Selfridge test flew the Wright Flyer in a demonstration for the U.S. Army at Fort Myer, VA. The Army was considering contracting Wright’s aircraft to use as a military airplane, but, in order to win the contract, he needed to demonstrate the plane’s ability to carry a passenger. Twenty-six-year-old Lt Thomas E. Selfridge volunteered to be a passenger that day. Orville Wright succeeded in keeping the Wright Flyer aloft for one minute and 11 seconds. After more than four minutes in the air, the airplane crashed to the ground from a height of about seventy-five feet after a propeller blade broke and the machine went out of control. Orville Wright was severely cut and bruised and his passenger, Lt. Thomas Selfridge, became the first powered-aviation fatality.
A Rex Smith Aeroplane Company School can be seen on the side of the building in the background. The founder, Rex Smith, was an inventor and a patent attorney. The Rex Smith Biplane was used in the successful April 3, 1911 U.S. Army Signal Corps experiments in wireless communications. The Signal Corps did not buy any Smith Biplanes, they did however use them from time to time to train pilots to fly the Curtiss aircraft at the same field.
The Wrights would prove their machine’s qualifications at Fort Myer. They met or exceeded all of the Army’s specifications, including flying at 40 miles per hour, carrying a combined passenger weight of 350 pounds, maneuvering in any direction in the air, landing without damage, and flying for at least an hour non-stop, which was a world record at the time.
Today, the Wright brothers are legends, with their accomplishments being the storybook example of American perseverance and ingenuity.