First Test Flight of World’s First Military Airplane: The Wright Military Flyer
The Wright Military Flyer
World’s First Military Airplane
The U.S. Army purchased its first aircraft from the Wright brothers in August 1909 after the brothers demonstrated an airplane that fulfilled all the the conditions that had been set out in “Signal Corps Specification 486,” for a “heavier-than-air flying machine” issued December 23, 1907. The Wrights first brought a Wright Model A airplane to Fort Myer, Virginia for testing on August 20, 1908. After a series of successful flights, the airplane crashed on September 17, 1908, severely injuring Orville and killing his passenger, Lt. Thomas Selfridge. Despite the tragedy, the Army was convinced the Wrights had built a capable airplane and extended their contract for one year.
With the assistance of their employees Charley Taylor and Charley Furnas, the Wrights built another aircraft, the Wright Military Flyer, and shipped it to Fort Myer on June 18, 1909. The Military Flyer differed from the Model A in that it had a slightly shorter wingspan, longer propellers, set higher off the ground, and had a different gear ratio in the power transmission. These changes were made to increase the speed of the aircraft, since the purchase price depended partly on air speed. The motor was the same as had been used the year before, but produced slightly more horsepower because it had been “broken in.”
Wright Military Flyer specifications:
- 36.5 ft (11.1 m) wingspan
- 5.8 ft (177 cm) chord
- 5 ft (152 cm) separation
- 415 sq ft (38.6 sq. m) wing area
- 1:20 camber
- 80 sq ft (7.4 sq m) double horizontal front rudder
- 16 sq ft (1.5 sq m) twin movable vertical rear rudders
- 28.9 ft (8.8 m) overall length
- 735 lb (333.4 kg) total weight
- 4 cylinder engine, 32 hp at 1310 rpm
- Two contra-rotating propellers, 9 ft (274 cm) long, turning at 425 rpm
- 42 mph (67.6 kph) average speed
The first official test flight of the U.S. Army’s first airplane began on June 27, 1909. Both Wilbur and Orville were present, although Orville did all the flying. On July 30, 1909, Orville flew the last test — the speed test — with Lt. Benjamin D. Foulois as his passenger. The aircraft averaged a speed of 42.58 miles per hour over a flight distance of 44 miles. With these results, the Army agreed to pay the Wright brothers $25,000 for the Wright Military Flyer with a bonus of $5000 ($2500 for each mile per hour over 40 mph).
The aircraft was transferred to Army facilities at College Park, Maryland where Wilbur flew it to train the first U.S. Army pilots, Lt. Frank P. Lahm and Lt. Frederic E. Humphries during October 1909. During this training, Wilbur experimented with a horizontal surface in the rear of the aircraft to increase pitch stability, as Orville was doing in Germany. These experiments would eventually lead to the Wright Model B.