31 Days of History: 27 July

On this day in 1909, exactly 100 years ago today, 1909 - Orville Wright set a record for the longest airplane flight. He was testing the first Army airplane and kept it in the air for 1 hour 12 minutes and 40 seconds—this flight took place at Ft Myers, just across the Potomac River from Washington, DC.

I’ve written about Ft Myer (here and here) in the past—it’s where we stayed for 10 days when we first moved to town and were looking for a place to live. It’s an exceedingly small but exceedingly immaculate base—due primarily to its location (immediately adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery), it’s occupants (the Joint Chiefs of Staff and much of the higher Army brass live here) and place in US history.

The Wright brothers, Orville and Wilbur, were two brothers who are generally credited with inventing and building the world's first successful airplane and making the first controlled, powered and sustained flight on 17 December 1903. Although not the first to build and fly experimental aircraft, the Wright brothers were the first to invent aircraft controls that made fixed wing flight possible

Orville (left) and Wilbur (right) Wright

After the successful flight of the “Wright Flyer I” at Kill Devil Hill in Kitty Hawk, NC, the Wright brothers continued to refine their technology and applied for a US Patent in 1906 for a "Flying Machine". As mentioned in the post on 25 July, patent applications required demonstrations.

The Wright Flyer I takes flight at Kitty Hawk

Orville demonstrated their invention to the United States Army at Fort Myer, Virginia, on 3 September 1908. It was so successful that on 17 September, Orville had another flight and took Army Lt. Thomas Selfridge along as his passenger, serving as an official observer. Unfortunately, a few minutes into the flight at an altitude of about 100 feet, a propeller split and shattered, sending the aircraft out of control and crashing to the ground. Selfridge suffered a fractured skull in the crash and died that evening in the nearby Army hospital, becoming the first fatality of an airplane crash. Orville was badly injured, suffering a broken left leg and four broken ribs. Seven weeks of hospital rehabilitation followed.

After the crash. . .

Lt. Thomas Selfridge

If you’d like to read the description of the event from the New York Times, click here:

A final flight followed in July 1909 which satisfied the demands of the Patent Office and US Army. They sold the aircraft to the Army's Signal Corps for $30,000.

It should be noted that on 25 May 1910, Orville & Wilbur took a 6 minute flight together, the time the Wright brothers ever flew together. They had promised their father they would never fly together to avoid the chance of a double tragedy. After that flight, Orville took his 82-year old father (Milton) on a nearly seven-minute flight, the first and only one of his life. The airplane rose to about 350 feet while the elderly Wright called to his son, "Higher, Orville, higher!"

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