Orville Flies in Germany

by Dr. Richard Stimson

in Wright Activities Before and After 1903

Just as Wilbur had wowed the French with his flying exploits, Orville did the same thing in Germany. During the summer and fall of 1909, Orville made 19 flights, set world records for altitude and duration of flight, including flight with a passenger, in front of crowds of 200,000 people.

In May of 1909 the Flugmachine Wright Gesellshaft was founded to manufacture Wright Flyers in Germany.

Initially Germany wasn’t interested in inviting the Wrights to demonstrate their airplane. Wilbur thought it was because officials were afraid of the possible consequences of a blunder. It seemed that every official near the emperor was in constant fear of losing his standing.

Another reason was that the Germans were preoccupied with Count Ferdinand Zeppelin and his dirigibles.

There were some German army officers that began to think that flying machines might prove more effective for war than dirigibles. Captain Richard von Kehler was one of these officers. He proposed the formation of a company to manufacture Wright Flyers when the Wrights were in Rome in April. The result was the formation of the “Flugmachine” Wright Company in Germany on May 13, 1909.

Captain Alfred Hildebrandt was another one of the officers who were supporting airplanes. He had witnessed Wilbur fly at Pau and was greatly impressed. He wanted to get Wilbur to Germany to demonstrate what his machine could do.

Hildebrandt, on behalf of the German newspaper, Lokal-Anzeiger, offered the Wrights a substantial fee to fly in Germany. The Wrights accepted. The family decided that Orville would fly in Germany because Wilbur had flown in France. Katharine would accompany Orville on the trip.

Orville and Katharine left Dayton for Europe on August 8, 1909. Katharine took a leave of absence from Steele High School where she was a teacher. It turned out that she never returned to teaching.

They sailed from New York on August 10 aboard the Kronprinzessin Cecilie and arrived in London on August 16 and in Berlin on August 19.

While in Britain, Orville and Katharine, accompanied by Charles S. Rolls, founder of the British Rolls-Royce automobile company, visited Sheppey Island to inspect Wright airplanes under construction under license by the Short Brothers. Earlier in the year a contract had been signed with the Short Brothers to construct a dozen Wright Flyers.

In Berlin the emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm, ordered Count Zeppelin to fly his newest dirigible to Berlin and on Sunday, August 29, the big silver dirigible sailed over the city while all the church bells in the city provided a loud greeting. A crowd of some 100,000 people was at Tegel parade ground to see the ship land.

Also there were Orville and Katharine on the viewing platform with the royal family. Count Zeppelin dipped the nose of the ship in a salute to the emperor. After landing and paying respects to the emperor, Count Zeppelin was introduced to Orville and Katharine. That night, the Orville and his sister dined with the emperor in his castle.

The following week on August 30, Orville showed what an airplane could do that a dirigible could not. He started his program by making preliminary flights of 52 minutes before a gathering of military officials at Tempelhof parade ground near Berlin.

On September 4, Orville made his first public exhibition flights under the sponsorship of Lokal-Anzeiger. He flew for 19 minutes, 2 seconds for a distance of about 20 kilometers. The crowd’s cheers were like those Wilbur received in France.

During the week of September 6-11 Orville flew before crowds as large as 200,000. Crown Prince Wilhelm, Crown Princess Ceclie were among the spectators.

Mrs. Alfred Hildebrandt was a passenger on one of the flights. She flew for 8 minutes, 38 seconds and became the first woman to fly as a passenger of an airplane in Germany.

On September 15, Orville took a few days off and traveled to Frankfurt for a ride in Count Zeppelin’s new dirigible, Zeppelin LZ 6 on a 50-mile trip from Frankfort to Mannheim. Travelling with him were Captain Hildebrandt and three members of the royal family. Hildebrandt acted as an interpreter. Katharine accompanied the group in the dirigible, Parseval

The press of the crowd was so great on arrival in Mannheim that Orville got separated from the rest of the group. He couldn’t remember the name of the hotel where they were to have lunch and without Hildebrandt he couldn’t ask anyone for directions. Fortunately, a member of the reception committee found him and brought him to the hotel.

On September 17, Orville set a new flying record for a flight that lasted 54-minutes, 34-seconds and at a height of 565 feet.

The next day he set another record. According to a Berlin newspaper on September 18: “Orville Wright made a new record at the Tempelof field for sustained aeroplane flight with a passenger. He remained in the air for one hour and 35 minutes carrying Capt. Englehardt. He broke his own record, made July 27, when he stayed up with a passenger for one hour and 12 minutes”.

Captain Paul Englehard was a retired German naval officer who was being trained to be a pilot by Orville. He completed three solo flights on October 13 and earned pilot’s license No. 3 in Germany.

The Empress of Germany, along with Prince Adalbert, Prince August Wilhelm and Princess Viktoria witnessed Orville’s achievement.

That afternoon Orville flew again. This time alone. This time a broken water pump terminated his flight after flying for 1 hour, 45 minutes.

This day’s flights completed Orville’s obligation to fly under the contract with Lokal-Anzeiger.

Orville than moved his operations to Bornstedt drill grounds at Potsdam about 17 miles south of Berlin. His flights there weren’t private but members of the royal family were in attendance most of the time.

Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm, 20, was particularly interested in flying. He convinced Orville to take him up. On October 2, the Crown Prince donned an overcoat to protect himself from oil splatters from the engine and was given a fifteen-minute flight. It was the first member of a royal family to ride in an airplane.

He kept urging Orville to fly higher. Orville kept the machine at an altitude of near 60 feet. Under different circumstances he was willing to oblige the Prince, but he was not about to take any chances that would get him in trouble with Prince’s father, the Kaiser.

The Crown Prince, nevertheless was overjoyed with the 15 minute ride and expressed his gratitude by presenting Orville with a fancy jeweled stickpin consisting of a crown set in rubies surrounding the initial “W” in diamonds. The diamond encrusted “W” stood for Wilhelm but the Prince told Orville it could just as well stand for Wright.

Later that day, Orville set an unofficial altitude record by soaring to 1,600 feet during a twenty-minute flight.

On October 15, Orville made his last appearance in Germany by topping off his stay with a spectacular flight of 25-30 minutes before Emperor Wilhelm, the Empress, Princess Viktoria Luise and General von Plessen. The Kaiser had been away on business and had not seen Orville fly as yet.

By the time the Kaiser arrived, it was getting dark. Orville took off and flew to 300-feet, circled, dove, flew out-of sight and returned for a total flight of 30 minutes. Most of the flight was flown after sunset with only the illumination being the moon and stars. Three royal cars lined up and turned on their headlights so Orville could see to land.

The Kaiser was ecstatic about the flight and bombarded Orville with questions. In appreciation, the Emperor presented a signed photograph of himself to Orville.

The next day Orville and Katharine left for Paris and London on their way home to Dayton.

One other thing that Orville did before he left Germany was to visit the home of Otto Lilienthal. Orville and Wilbur thought highly of Lilienthal and gave him credit for helping shape their ideas about designing a flying machine.

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