Wright Flyer over Fort Myer

US Army Buys the Future of Aviation

Historic Flights Originated on Fort Myer

Wright Flyer over Fort Myer
Wright Flyer over Fort Myer
On 02 August 1909 another military aviation milestone was reached. It was when the US Army Signal Corps secured the Wright Flyer from the Wright Brothers. For the sum of $30,000.00 of which $5,000.00 was a bonus for exceeding the requirements of speed of flight,  - They flew from the Fort Myer to Alexandria Virginia and back at the speed of 42.5 mph. It marked the Future of Aviation as the United States was now  the first country in the world to own an aircraft. The saga began in September 1908 when the first military flights began on Fort Myer - circling the drill field with Arlington National Cemetery as the backdrop to history being made on this US Army Post. Orville Wright had appeared with his Wright Flyer prepared to answer the US Army Signal Corps' request for a heavier than air flying machine. He successfully demonstrated the capability of the Wright Flyer.  Despite the crash caused by a shattered propeller that dropped Orville and LT Thomas Selfridge from the sky at about one hundred feet.  Orville suffered broken bones in his leg and broken ribs.  Selfridge fared worse with a concussion that later resulted in him passing.  He then became the first military aviation fatality.   Section 3 in Arlington National Cemetery is where he is at rest.

Wright Brothers Return in 1909

When the US Army agreed to a return appearance, the Wright brothers, both Orville and WIlbur returned in June 1909 with a brand newly built airplane designated the "Military Flyer".  It was then flown several times for both duration of flight and speed.  After the second speed test flight which included Orville flying from Fort Myer to Alexandria Virginia and return,  the US Army was convinced of the value of what the Wright brothers produced. The US Army bought the future of aviation with the acceptance of the Military Flyer.  Later in August, after a balloon reconnaissance by Lt Frank Lahm,  land in College Park, Maryland was leased to become the first US Army Signal Corps Airport.   The airport continues until today thus holding the distinction of the oldest airport in the world.   An aviation museum sits alongside the runway where the Wright brothers trained the first US Army pilots.   Later other aviation companies would get there start among those acres.

OVER 200 Historical Images

"images of America - Fort Myer"  chronicles the first one hundred years of this historic US Army Post from when it was built in the 1860s and known then as Fort Whipple until the 1960s when among the 3d Infantry regiment appeared the Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps.   An autographed by the author copy of the book is avail able at BUY THE BOOK.
College Park Airport

On To College Park, Maryland!

Military Aviation School at College Park MarylandBecause of the US Army Signal Corps and the aviation success at Fort Myer, College Park, Maryland became the site of the longest continual operational airport in the world.

Wright Flyer at Fort Myer

It was late July 1909. The Wright Flyer had flown from Fort Myer Virginia to the edges of Old Town Alexandria, Virginia and back. The US Army Signal Corps' Officers were pleased that the speed results exceeded the 40 MPH threshold.  With the return of the Wright Brothers entry in response  to their request for a heavier than air flying machine, the Army had a viable aircraft.   It was now up to the Wright brothers to provide the training.  But where?   The small number of acres at Fort Myer were too confining.   Besides, the public interest guaranteed that there was always a crowd of people ready to watch this new form of transportation when they held the trials at Fort Myer. The US Army still used gas filled balloons then.  LT Frank Lahm on a regular observation flight discovered a flat parcel of land some 10 to 12 miles to the Northeast. It was near the Baltimore and Ohio railroad tracks, which later would serve as competition for the air-land races that these new aviators would compete.  So the US Army leased the land in August of 1909 and a new chapter... perhaps books of transportation began.  It was here that the Wright brothers trained the first pilots:  Frederic Humphreys and Frank Lahm.  It would also be here that many familiar aviation companies began -  among them Curtiss-Wright. The War Department established the first military aviation school with Lieutenant Henry H. Arnold as one of the instructors.  The airplane saw its first use in warfare in WWI as the US Army Air Corps was established in 1926 - they renamed the US Army Air Service. Arnold college_park_airport_2would later go on to lead the new United States Army Air Forces in 1942 which became the United States Air Force in 1947. It would be at College Park, where civilian aviation began with the Rex Smith Aeroplane Company.   Later another first, the building of the first aircraft by the Christmas Aeroplane Company in 1911.  A year later, the company would deliver it's next model craft to respond to the contract to deliver mail by air for the  US Postal Service.  In 1918, the first regular airmail delivery between College Park and both Philadelphia and New York City began lasting until 1921. As more and more applications of aviation were  discovered and used, the industry grew as did the number of  airports across the United States and around the world.  Though College Park, Maryland still  holds the distinction of being the first.  The saga continues at the airport and the adjacent College Park Aviation Museum which is worth the visit to see some of this history up close and personal. The book,  "Images of America - Fort Myer"  holds a treasure of over 200 "timeless photographs" that deliver the first 100 years of this US Army Post.  
Wright Flyer on Fort Myer Drill Field in 1909

The Return of the Wright Brothers

Wright Flyer on Fort Myer Drill Field in 1909

Military Aviation - A New Way To Travel

When the US Army asked the Wright brothers to return to Fort Myer in 1909, it was the beginning of a new era in travel. In spite of the crash on September 17, 1908, where a propeller shattered and the airplane along with its two occupants - Orville Wright and Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge - fell from the sky. They were at approximately 100 feet. (The crash injured both of them - Orville had broken bones in his leg and ribs while Lieutenant Selfridge suffered a concussion resulting in him passing a few hours later).

Wright Brothers Return to Fort Myer

Orville had healed from his injuries and was ready to fly again. Tests resumed in July of 1909 with a newer version of the Wright Flyer and the trials were well attended on the drill field of Fort Myer.   On July 30, 1909, Lieutenant Benjamin D. Foulois as the passenger and Orville at the controls flew from Fort Myer to Alexandria, Virginia and return at a speed in excess of 42 miles an hour and covering 10 miles. This concluded the final tests. On August 2, 1909, the Signal Corps accepted the Wright Flyer as the world's first military aircraft, naming it Signal Corps Airplane No. 1. It was onto College Park, Maryland for training.

More in the Book

Images of America - Fort Myer chronicles the first one hundred years of this historic US Army Post with a combination of telling narrative and over 200 historical photographs.  As One of the nearly seventy forts constructed during the US Civil War - The Defenses of Washington - when then it was known as Fort Whipple,  Fort Myer continues its mission of defending the US Capital of Washington DC.   It's also home to The US Army Band (TUSAB) - "Pershing's Own"  and the 3d US Infantry - "The Old Guard"  which are two elite ceremonial units of the US Army.