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1909 Wright Military Flyer

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This object is on display in the Early Flight exhibition at the National Mall building.


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.

Transferred from the U.S. War Department.

Manufacturer: Wright Brothers, Dayton, Ohio

Date: 1909

Country of Origin: United States of America

Dimensions: Wingspan: 11.2 m (36 ft 8 in)
Length: 8.9 m (29 ft 2 in)
Height: 2.5 m (8 ft 2 in)
Weight: 334 kg (735 lb)

Materials: Airframe: Wood Fabric Covering: Muslin

Physical Description:Canard biplane with one 30-to-40-horsepower Wright vertical four-cylinder engine driving two pusher propellers via sprocket-and-chain transmission system. No wheels; skids for landing gear. Natural fabric finish; no sealant or paint of any kind.

Inventory number: A19120001000

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