Tail Assembly
Landing Gear
Control Components
Land Planes
Carrier-Based Aircraft
Vertical Takeoff and Landing Airplanes
Short Takeoff and Landing Airplanes
Space Shuttle
Commercial Airplanes
Military Airplanes
General-Aviation Aircraft
The First Airplane Flight
Early Military and Public Interest
Planes of World War I
Development of Commercial Aviation
Aircraft Developments of World War II
The Jumbo Jet Era


Flight History-First Flight-Brother Wright First Flight-World War 1 Airplanes

In September 1908, five years after Kitty Hawk, American aeronautical engineer Orville Wright made a series of demonstration flights for the Army Signal Corps at Fort Myer, Virginia. This was the first time that military leaders had contemplated the strategic value of the airplane. On September 9, Wright set a new record for a heavier-than-air craft with a sustained flight of more than one hour. This Los Angeles Times article describes Wright’s record-breaking flight and the reactions of the army officers and United States Cabinet members who were in attendance. (Flight History-First Flight-Brother Wright First Flight-World War 1 Airplanes)

Not until 1906 did anyone else fly in an airplane. In that year short hops were made by a Romanian, Trajan Vuia, living in Paris, and by Jacob Christian Ellehammer, in Denmark. The first officially witnessed flight in Europe was made in France, by Alberto Santos-Dumont, of Brazil. His longest flight, on November 12, 1906, covered a distance of about 220 m (722 ft) in 21.2 sec. The airplane, the 14- bis, was of his own design, made by the Voisin firm in Paris, and powered with a Levavasseur 40-horsepower Antoinette engine. The airplane resembled a large box kite, with a smaller box at the front end of a long, cloth-covered frame. The engine and propeller were at the rear, and the pilot stood in a basket just forward of the main rear wing. Not until near the end of 1907 did anyone in Europe fly for 1 min; Henri Farman did so in an airplane built by Voisin. (Flight History-First Flight-Brother Wright First Flight-World War 1 Airplanes)

In great contrast were the flights of the Wright brothers. Orville, in the U.S., demonstrated a Flyer for the Army Signal Corps at Fort Myer, Virginia, beginning September 3, 1908. On September 9 he completed the world's first flight of more than one hour and, also for the first time, carried a passenger, Lieutenant Frank P. Lahm, for a 6-min 24-sec flight. These demonstrations were interrupted on September 17, when the airplane crashed, injuring Orville and his passenger, Lieutenant Thomas E. Selfridge, who died hours later from a concussion. Selfridge was the first person to be fatally injured in a powered airplane. Wilbur, meanwhile, had gone to France in August 1908, and on December 31 of that year completed a flight of over 2 hours and 20 minutes, demonstrating total control of his Flyer, turning gracefully, and climbing or descending at will. Recovered from his injuries, and with Wilbur's assistance, Orville resumed demonstrations for the Signal Corps in the following July and met their requirements by the end of the month. The airplane was purchased on August 2, becoming the first successful military airplane. It remained in active service for about two years and was then retired to the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., at which it is displayed today. (Flight History-First Flight-Brother Wright First Flight-World War 1 Airplanes)

Prominent among American designers, makers, and pilots of airplanes was Glenn Hammond Curtiss, of Hammondsport, New York. He first made a solo flight on June 28, 1907, in a dirigible airship built by Thomas Baldwin. It was powered with a Curtiss engine, modified from those used on Curtiss motorcycles. In the following May, Curtiss flew alone in an airplane designed and built by a group known as the Aerial Experiment Association, organized by Alexander Graham Bell. Curtiss was one of the five members. In their third airplane, the June Bug, Curtiss, on July 4, 1908, covered a distance of 1552 m (5090 ft) in 1 min 42.5 sec., winning the first American award, the Scientific American Trophy, given for an airplane flight. At Reims, France, on August 28, 1909, Curtiss won the first international speed event, at about 75.6 km/h (47 mph). On May 29, 1910, he won the New York World prize of $10,000 for the first flight from Albany, New York, to New York City. In August of that year he flew along the shore of Lake Erie, from Cleveland, Ohio, to Sandusky, Ohio, and back. In January 1911 he became the first American to develop and fly a seaplane. The first successful seaplane had been made and flown by Henri Fabre, of France, on March 28, 1910. (Flight History-First Flight-Brother Wright First Flight-World War 1 Airplanes)

The pioneer airplane flight across the English Channel, from Calais, France, to Dover, England, a distance of about 37 km (about 23 mi) in 35.5 min, was made July 25, 1909, by the French engineer Louis Blériot, in a monoplane that he had designed and built. (Flight History-First Flight-Brother Wright First Flight-World War 1 Airplanes)

During the period before World War I the design of both the airplane and the engine showed considerable improvement. Pusher biplanes- two-winged airplanes with the engine and propeller behind the wing-were succeeded by tractor biplanes, with the propeller in front of the wing. Only a few types of monoplanes were used. Huge biplane bombers with two, three, or four engines were introduced by both contending forces in World War I. In Europe, the rotary engine was favored at first, but was succeeded by radial-type engines. In Britain and the U.S., water-cooled engines of the V type predominated. (Flight History-First Flight-Brother Wright First Flight-World War 1 Airplanes)

The first transportation of mail by airplane to be officially approved by the U.S. Post Office Department began on September 23, 1911, at the Nassau Boulevard air meet, Long Island, New York. The pilot was Earle Ovington, who carried the mail bag on his knees, flying about 8 km (5 mi) to Mineola, Long Island, where he tossed the bag overboard, to be picked up and carried to the post office. The service was continued for only a week (see Airmail).

In 1911 the first transcontinental flight across the United States, from New York City to Long Beach, California, was completed by the American aviator Calbraith P. Rodgers. He left Sheepshead Bay, in Brooklyn, New York, on September 17, 1911, using a Wright machine, and landed at his goal on December 10, 1911, 84 days later. His actual flying time was 3 days, 10 hr, and 14 min. (Flight History-First Flight-Brother Wright First Flight-World War 1 Airplanes)

Flight History-First Flight-Brother Wright First Flight-World War 1 Airplanes