Wrights Do Wonders

by Dr. Richard Stimson

in The Military Airplane

On September 17, 1908, Orville crashed when a propeller split on his plane while flying at Fort Myer. The split propeller caused his machine to go out of control. Orville was seriously injured and his passenger Lt. Selfridge died.

The Army extended the required time to qualify for selling their machine to the Army for a year to enable Orville to heal from his injuries.

Orville did return in 1909 to fly for the first time on June 29. He took four cautious flights that day to get used to the handling of the flying machine. His task was somewhat more complicated because a change in the design of the controls had been made to provide for controlling the rudder by a twist of the wrist.

Another design change provided a spark-retarding pedal on the footbar for throttling the engine.

On July 2, he flew again but ran into serious problems when the engine stopped running which caused Orville to hit a small thorn tree when he landed. He was not injured but shaken up. The incident must have brought back bad memories of the previous year. But that didn’t stop him from flying.

Wilbur saw a photographer taking pictures of the damaged plane. He reacted by grabbing a piece of wood off the ground and threw it at him while demanding the exposed film. This part of his personality was not revealed very often.

The worst part of the damage to the plane was to the fabric covering the wing. That repair mandated a trip back to Dayton by Orville for repair. He returned on July 2 and flew again on July 12. Things were going better now and on July 20 he set new records.

The July 21, 1909 Portland Daily Press carried the following article, byline Washington July 20.

Marvelous Flying by Ohio Aviators.

New Record Established.

Machine Soared and Cut Circles at Will of Operator.

A new record for aviation in America was established by Orville Wright, in the Wright aeroplane late today, at Fort Myer by a spectacular flight of one hour, 20 minutes, 45 seconds duration. The longest previous flight was in the United States was 74 minutes, made by Mr. Wright at Fort Myer last fall.

During the entire flight the machine was under perfect control, but several times appeared to the spectators to be on the point of diving to earth.

Several thousand people were given an exhibition which included the most daring feats of aviation yet accomplished and at its conclusion a mighty cheer went up.

The machine traveled a distance of about 70 miles and at one time during the flight the height attained, between 260 and 280 feet, exceeded the highest point ever reached by a heavier than air machine in this continent. The most wonderful part of the flight was the execution of three complete “figure eights,” which required careful maneuvering in directing the machine. Not the slightest mishap occurred during the flight, but there were moments when the crowd almost breathlessly, fearing the aviator was losing control of his artificial bird.

A thrill passed through the spectators as the white flyer, apparently beginning to dive to the earth would regain its equilibrium and speed onward around the oval above the parade ground. After rounding the course a half hundred times the aviator directed the machine’s course around the small double circle of a “figure eight.” It was the first time this season and the second time during his career that he has executed this maneuver.

To the amazement of the crowd the machine described a second eight and then a third one, after which it was guided back to its former course of large ovals.

After he had been in the air half an hour, making a complete round of the field each time, Mr. Wright maneuvered the machine through several short circles, some not more than 500 feet in diameter.

Having sufficiently satisfied himself that he could execute these circles, he went back to making large ovals again and continued these for some time. Than, after circling the field 54 times, the machine started cutting the “figure eights,’ much to the delight of the crowd.

When he had completed these clever maneuvers the aviator started to make a showing in regards to height. Slowly the aeroplane rose to a higher altitude on each lap until it had soared to a distance of between 250 and 280 feet from the ground. At this altitude the machine flew half a dozen rounds and then gradually descended toward the earth. Mr. Wright made a successful and easy landing after completing 83 rounds of the field.

In today’s flight, Mr. Wright met the requirements set forth by the government, except that of carrying one passenger and making the five mile straight away run. Both Wilbur and Orville Wright declared today that the machine is working much better, but that they want to have several more trials before the official test.

Wilbur Wright, replying to a comment the flight today would have covered the width of the English channel, which Herbert Latham unsuccessfully attempted to cross yesterday, said it would have been possible for his brother to have crossed from France to England and to have returned to France again without landing. He also remarked that it would have been easy to have continued today’s flight as far as Baltimore.

Comment: On July 30, he completed the final demonstration to win the Army contract. With Lt. Benny Foulois as his passenger, Orville flew a ten-mile round trip from Fort Myer to Alexandria in an average speed of 42.583 miles per hour.

Five days before, Louis Bleriot had flown 23.5 miles across the English Channel.

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