Today in Smithsonian History: March 26, 1980

1909 Wright Flyer

The 1909 Wright Military Flyer is the world’s first military airplane. In 1908, the U.S. Army Signal Corps sought competitive bids for a two-seat observation aircraft. Winning designs had to meet a number specified performance standards. Flight trials with the Wrights’ entry began at Fort Myer, Virginia, on September 3, 1908. After several days of successful flights, tragedy occurred on September 17, when Orville Wright crashed with Lt. Thomas 0. Selfridge, the Army’s observer, as his passenger. Orville survived with severe injuries, but Selfridge was killed, becoming the first fatality in a powered airplane.
On June 3, 1909, the Wrights returned to Fort Myer with a new airplane to complete the trials begun in 1908. Satisfying all requirements, the Army purchased the airplane for $30,000, and conducted flight training with it at nearby College Park, Maryland, and at Fort Sam Houston, in San Antonio, Texas, in 1910. It was given to the Smithsonian in 1911. (Photo of the Flyer on display in the Air and Space Museum’s Early Flight Gallery by Eric Long)

March 26, 1980 The Early Flight Gallery opens at the National Air and Space Museum recreating a 1913 indoor aeronautical trade show.

Hang glider on display

The most significant pre-Wright brothers aeronautical experimenter was the German glider pioneer, Otto Lilienthal. Lilienthal was trained in the highly regarded German technical education system and earned his living as a professional engineer. He began research in aeronautics with his brother Gustave in the late 1860s, investigating the mechanics and aerodynamics of bird flight. In the 1870s he conducted a series of experiments on wing shapes and gathered air pressure data using a whirling arm and in the natural wind. The research produced the best and most complete body of aerodynamic data of the day. (Photo courtesy of the National Air and Space Museum)

Posted: 26 March 2016
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