Biographical / Historical
The Wright brothers inaugurated the aerial age with the world's first successful flights of a powered heavier-than-air flying machine. After building and testing three full-sized gliders, the Wrights' first powered airplane flew at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on December 17, 1903, making a 12-second flight, traveling 36 m (120 ft), with Orville piloting. The best flight of the day, with Wilbur at the controls, covered 255.6 m (852 ft) in 59 seconds. By 1908 the Wrights were demonstrating their machines in Europe. The U.S. Army Signal Corps advertised for bids for a two-seat observation aircraft and in September 1908 and June and July 1909, the Wrights flew at official Army trials at Fort Myer, Virginia. (It was here that powered flight's first fatality occurred: the tragic death of Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge.) A number of other demonstration flights were made, and records set, during this time period. On September 9, 1908, Orville Wright set three new endurance records at Fort Myer, two for flights with pilot only (57 minutes, 31 seconds and 62 minutes, 15 seconds respectively) and one for flight with passenger (6 minutes, 24 seconds with passenger Frank Purdy Lahm). The flight with Lahm was also probably the first night airplane flight. On July 30, 1909, Orville Wright made the first cross country trip from Fort Myer to Alexandria, Virginia and return with Benjamin Delahauf Foulois acting as passenger-observer. Armin Adolphus Kahler was an optical instrument maker residing in Washington, DC during the time of these flights.