Tag Archives: Wright Brothers

20 September 1904

Wilbur Wright, 1867–1912. (Library of Congress)

20 September 1904: In an effort to improve their airplane, the Wright Brothers moved their test flights from the windy Kill Devil Hills of North Carolina to Huffman Prairie, near Dayton, Ohio. Without the winds, however, they needed to achieve greater speed for the airplane to take off, so they devised a catapult which used a 1,200 pound (544 kilogram) weight dropped from a 20 foot (6.1 meter) wooden derrick to pull the Wright Flyer II down a wooden track.

The Wright Flyer II was very similar to the original Flyer. Some parts of the airframe were strengthened, which slightly increased the new airplane’s weight.

Wilbur Wright was at the controls of the Flyer II on 20 September 1904, when it made the first-ever complete circular turn by an airplane. This was witnessed by Ames I. Root, who wrote about it in his magazine, Gleanings in Bee Culture:

“When it turned that circle, and came near the starting-point, I was right in front of it, and I said then and I believe still, it was. . . the grandest sight of my life. Imagine a locomotive that has left its track, and is climbing right toward you – a locomotive without any wheels. . . but with white wings instead. . . Well, now, imagine that locomotive with wings that spread 20 feet each way, coming right toward you with the tremendous flap of its propellers, and you have something like what I saw.”

The 30th flight of Flyer II at Huffman Prairie, August 1904. (Wright State University)

The Wright Brothers flew the Flyer II 105 times that summer. Next would come the Flyer III.

Wilbur Wright and the Flyer II on Flight 85 at Huffman Prairie. (Wright State University)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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2 August 1909

 

The Wright 1909 Military Flyer being fueled at Fort Myer, Virginia, 27 July 1909. Orville Wright is to the right of center in this photograph. The military officer is 1st Lieutenant Frank P. Lahm, Signal Corps, United States Army. Behind the airplane is 1st Lieutenant Benjamin D. Fuolois and Wilbur Wright. (NASM)

2 August 1909: The United States Army Signal Corps purchased a Wright Flyer for $30,000. It became the first aircraft in the United States’ military inventory and was designated Signal Corps Airplane No. 1. The airplane was used to train Signal Corps pilots at Fort San Antonio, Texas. It was crashed and rebuilt several times. After just two years’ service, the airplane was retired. The Army donated Airplane No. 1 to the Smithsonian Institution.

During test flights that were conducted prior to acceptance by the Army, Orville Wright with Lieutenant Benjamin D. Fulois as a passenger (he was chosen because of his size and his ability to read maps) the Flyer achieved a two-way average 42.583 miles per hour (68.531 kilometers per hour), over a 5 mile (8.05 kilometers) course. The Signal Corps specification allowed a bonus of $2,500 per full mile per hour above 40 miles per hour. This increased the purchase price of the airplane from $25,000 to $30,000. The Army also required the airplane to be able to remain airborne for a minimum of one hour. Wright demonstrated its endurance at 1 hour, 12 minutes, 40 seconds.

1st Lieutenant Benjamin D. Fulois, Signal Corps, United States Army, and Orville Wright, at Fort Myer, Virginia, 1909. (U.S. Air Force)
1st Lieutenant Benjamin Delahauf Fulois, Signal Corps, United States Army, and Orville Wright, at Fort Myer, Virginia, 1909. By November 1917, Brigadier General Fulois was Chief of Air Service, American Expeditionary Forces. (U.S. Air Force)

The 1909 Military Flyer is a one-of-a-kind variant of the Wright Brothers’ Model A which was produced from 1907 to 1909. The airplane has shorter wings than the standard Model A, and slightly longer propeller blades which are turned at a different r.p.m. These changes were made to increase the Flyer’s speed through the air. The engine had been salvaged from the 1908 Model A which crashed at Fort Myer in 1908, severely injuring Orville Wright and killing Lieutenant Thomas E. Selfridge.

The Military Flyer is a two-place, single-engine biplane built of a wooden framework braced with wires. The wings, rudders and elevators are covered with muslin. The elevators are placed forward in canard configuration with rudders aft. Roll control was by the Wright Brothers’ patented wing-warping system.

Signal Corps Airplane no. 1, the Wright 1909 Military Flyer, at Fort Myer, Virginia, 1910. (U.S. Air Force)
Signal Corps Airplane No. 1, the Wright 1909 Military Flyer, at Fort Myer, Virginia, 1910. (U.S. Air Force)

As originally built (it was repaired and slightly modified during its two years in service) the airplane was 28 feet, 11 inches (8.814 meters) long with a wingspan of 36 feet, 6 inches (11.125 meters) and height of 8 feet, 1 inch (2.464 meters). The wings have a chord of 5 feet, 10 inches (1.778 meters) and vertical separation of 5 feet (1.524 meters). The lower wing has 2 feet, 3 inches (0.686 meter) of ground clearance. The elevators have a span of 15 feet, 5 inches (4.699 meters), a chord of 3 feet (0.914 meter) and vertical spacing of 3 feet (0.914 meter). The parallel rudders are 4 feet, 8½ inches (1.435 meters) tall with a chord of 1 foot, 8 inches (0.508 meter). Their lateral separation is also 1 foot, 8 inches (0.508 meter). The rudder pivot point is 15 feet, 11 inches (4.851 meters) aft of the wings’ leading edge. The airplane had an empty weight of 740 pounds (335.7 kilograms).

Wright Military Flyer. Three-view drawing with dimensions. (Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company)

The Military Flyer was powered by a single water-cooled, fuel-injected, 240.528 cubic-inch-displacement (3.942 liter) Wright vertical overhead-valve inline four-cylinder gasoline engine with 2 valves per cylinder and a compression ratio of 4.165:1. It produced 32 horsepower at 1,310 r.p.m. During three years of production (1908–1911) Wright “4-40” engines were built that operated from 1,325 to 1,500 r.p.m. Power output ranged from 28 to 40 horsepower. These engines weighed from 160 to 180 pounds (72.6–81.6 kilograms).

Two 8 foot, 6 inch (2.591 meter) diameter two-bladed counter-rotating propellers,are mounted behind the wings in pusher configuration. Driven by a chain drive, they turned 425 r.p.m.

The Military Flyer could fly 42 miles per hour (67.6 kilometers per hour) and had endurance of one hour.

Early army officers who trained with Signal Corps Airplane No. 1 included Lieutenants Benjamin D. Fulois, Frank P. Lahm and Frederic E. Humphreys.

The unrestored Wright 1909 Military Flyer is in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution, displayed at the National Mall. A reproduction of the airplane is at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

Signal Corps Airplane No. 1, the Wright 1909 Military Flyer, on display at the Early Flight gallery of the Smithsonian Institution National Mall building. (Photo by Eric Long, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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Wilbur Wright (16 April 1867–30 May 1912)

Wilbur Wright, 1905. (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

30 May 1912: Wilbur Wright, co-inventor with his brother Orville of the Wright Flyer, the first powered, controllable, heavier-than-air vehicle, died at the family home in Dayton, Ohio, of typhoid fever.

His father wrote:

“May 30, 1912

“This morning at 3:15, Wilbur passed away, aged 45 years, 1 month, and 14 days.

“A short life, full of consequences.

“An unfailing intellect, imperturbable temper, great self-reliance and as great modesty, seeing the right clearly, pursuing it steadfastly, he lived and died.

— Bishop Milton Wright

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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