Wilbur Damages Wing Landing at Hunaudieres

by Dr. Richard Stimson

in Wright Activities Before and After 1903

Wilbur Wright damaged a wing on landing at Hunaudieres Race Course near Le Mans after his second flight of the day on August 13, 1908. The hard landing also broke some spars, ribs, and one skid runner was damaged.

Orville Wright was quoted in the newspaper the next day by the AP saying that the wreck was caused by a wrong move of a lever that controls the plane. “I have a cablegram from my brother explaining the affair. It resulted from a wrong move of the lever controlling the lateral rudders that govern the equilibrium, just as the aeroplane reached the level of the ground, causing it to list and bring the end of the structure in violent collision with the earth.”

“In the upper air,” Orville continued, “the mistake would have resulted in no harm. The aeroplane can be put in order in a few days.”

Orville at this time was preparing to perform test flights for the U.S. Army at Ft Myer, Virginia. Wilbur on August 15 warned his brother that he should prepare to have some difficulty mastering the handles that they had newly installed on their airplanes. “I have not yet learned to operate the handles without blunders.”

The recent occurrence wasn’t the first time that Wilbur became confused with the new controls. At Kitty Hawk before Wilbur went to France, Wilbur and Orville spent time practicing with the controls. On his last flight before traveling to France, Wilbur became confused while operating the elevator control and dived the plane into the sand at 41 mph. He wrecked the plane but fortunately survived with only a few bruises.

The recent accident was the eleventh and last flight flown at Hunaudieres. Wilbur didn’t like the field because of its small tree-lined size. He had to continuously make turns to say within the confines of the field.

The French military, now impressed with his flying exploits, offered him a larger more suitable field almost devoid of trees that formerly had been a military camp and artillery testing ground. It was his first choice originally, but the French didn’t want to let him use it then because of their lack of confidence that he would be able to fly.

On August 18, Wilbur completed repairs to the damaged plane and transported it to Camp d’Auvours, located close to the small town of Champegne and seven miles east of Le Mans. The high school in the town is named after Wilbur.

There he built a shed in the middle of the field where he would live. Inside the shed he rigged a canvas cot so that he could lift it up to the roof during the day. He placed packing crates so that they formed a crude wall between his “kitchen” and his “dining room.”

Wilbur lived in his shed for four months and enjoyed his stay except for when crowds of people were around. His companion was a stray dog named Flyer. Flyer was a good companion but not much of a “watch dog.” He would hide in the corner of the shed when visitors were around.

The use of sheds in France continued a practice initiated at Kitty Hawk where he and Orville lived in one to be close to their airplane.

Wilbur made some 120 successful flights at this location, many with a passenger accompanying him. He set records in flight time, distance and altitude.

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