First Flight at Ft. Myer

by Dr. Richard Stimson

in The Military Airplane

The Wrights had finally secured a contact from the U.S. Army to provide a flying machine. Orville traveled to Ft. Myer in 1908 to perform the required demonstration flights. This is one newspaper’s description of the event.

Springfield Republic, August 30, 1908:

Orville Wright has completed the assembly of his aeroplane, which was built by the Dayton brothers for the U. S. government.

The motor was tried out yesterday and the first preliminary flight is expected tomorrow.

Note: It took place four days later on Sept. 3rd.

The photograph shows how the Wright aeroplane looks.

The two main planes, each 40 feet long, look more than ever like a wide-stretched pair of wings. Out in front of the machine extends a skeleton framework of aluminum painted wood that curves up into the air, something like a bird’s neck, and that bears the ascending and descending planes on this end. These are operated by a lever from the aviator’s seat in the middle of the machine.

A second lever at the same point operates the inadequate looking little vertical rudder in the rear. This is simply two planes not very much bigger than open newspapers. The rudder can be tipped up and down in case there is danger of its striking when the machine makes a landing.

Almost amidship is the engine. This is a chunky affair, a little larger and more powerful than the engine that drives Capt. Baldwin’s dirigible. The gasoline tank alongside, which holds naphtha for a 125-mile flight, is about as big as the engine itself.

On the outboard side of the engine the radiator rises to the full height of six feet between the upper and lower planes. It is built of brass or copper and holds about 20 pounds of water.

Two little barrels at the top and two at the bottom not much bigger than two pairs of binoculars are joined by four upright sections of the same metal, a foot wide and less than an inch thick, set edge on to the wind. It has an immense area of cooling surface for its weight and offers very little wind resistance.

The operator and passenger sit on the lower edge of the forward plane alongside the engine. The double seat is cushioned, but is not much bigger than a baby carriage built for twins. There is a little footrest in the “neck of the bird” for the operator and its passenger to dig their heels into, and that is all.

Neither the operator nor the engine are exactly in the middle of the machine. They are a little off the center on each side, and intended roughly to balance each other, but — and here is the remarkable fact to the novice — there is no need for a nice adjustment of this balance. To be sure, the engine and the operator are not very far off the center, so there is not much leverage to be overcome, but there can be a discrepancy to 200 pounds in the two weights without affecting the flight of the machine.

The aeroplane will carry considerable added weight, too. This particular machine could lift about 400 or 500 pounds of added weight. That is to say, the big bird could swoop down and carry off a couple of good sized or small steer in its talons and not be more overloaded than a big eagle carrying off a small dog.

Also it could drop this weight without upsetting its flight. This is important in case it came to dropping explosives.

Mr. Wright said today he did not know that he could hit anything without a great deal of practice, but that the mere carrying of a heavy weight and letting it go suddenly would not tend to affect the machine in the least.

Both the propellers of the flying machine have been installed. They are of aluminum painted wood, smaller of diameter and broader of blade than the toothpick-like propeller of the Baldwin ship, but then each aerial propeller has to be designed for the particular work it has to do, and the two on the Wright machine have been calculated to a nicety for the particular function they are to perform. The propellers are driven by crossed bicycle chains off the main shaft of the engine.

The only two colors of the machine are white and silver, saving the gray plush aviator’s seat and the brass radiator. It is possible, after flying machines become a standard asset of the army, that there may be a special shade of paint prescribed for them, as there is now for torpedo boats and warships, as a protection against searchlights, but for the present this refinement has been reached.

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