On This Day: The First U.S. Military Airplane

Posted on Tue, August 2, 2016

On this day in 1909, the United States government purchased its first military aircraft, designed by the Wright brothers and costing $30,000.

  • 1909 Wright Military Flyer

    The 1909 Wright Military Flyer is on display in the Early Flight exhibition at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC.

  • Black and white photograph of Wilbur Wright preparing his aircraft.

    Wilbur Wright stands at the right wing tip of their aircraft and Orville Wright between the landing skids during military flight trials at Fort Myer, Virginia, June 29, 1909.

  • Black and white photo of photographers standing in a row.

    Photographers wait with their cameras during the military flight trials at Fort Myer, Virginia.

  • Black and white photo of the Wright Flyer in flight with crowd of onlookers below.

    The Wright Type A Military aircraft in flight during trials at Fort Myer, Virginia. 

Earlier, in 1908, the U.S. Army Signal Corps requested bids for a two-seat observation aircraft. Orville Wright went to Fort Myer, Virginia, with the Wright airplane to demonstrate its capability. Midway through the trials, however, the Wright airplane malfunctioned and crashed, severely injuring Orville and killing his passenger, Lt. Thomas Selfridge—the first fatality in a powered airplane. 

With a new airplane, the brothers returned to Fort Myer in 1909 and successfully completed their demonstration. On August 2, 1909, the Signal Corps officially accepted the Wright airplane. The 1909 Wright Military Flyer was used to train Army pilots.