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Wrights and Charlie Taylor assembled their new airplane and had it
airworthy on June 24, 1909. But they declined to fly, even when the
entire Senate showed up on June 26 and asked to be given a
demonstration. The Wrights were determined that nothing would go
wrong with this second set of trials, and the double-checked and
triple-checked every screw and wire. "They tinkered and fussed and
muttered to themselves from dawn to dusk," said Lt. Benjamin Foulois, who would later become one of the
Army's first military pilots. "It seemed as if they would never say
they were ready to go."
On June 29, Orville finally took to the air — he would do all the
flying for these trials. It was a shaky start. He smashed a skid on the
second day and tangled with a thorn tree on the next. One wing was badly
ripped, and Orville dashed back to Dayton for a new wing covering.
When he flew again on July 12, he had finally shaken the bad
"hoodoo" that plagued him. He began to make long, trouble-free
flights. On July 27, he set a new duration record for a flight with a
passenger of 1 hour and 12 minutes. The Army was impressed, especially
since one of their requirements was that the flying machine be able to
remain aloft for one hour with an observer on board.
Perhaps the most important requirement was that the airplane be able to fly at
least 40 miles per hour. The need for speed was what concerned the
brothers the most, and for good reason. For every mile per hour under that speed, the
Army would deduct $2500 from the base price of $25,000 for the aircraft.
For every mile over 40 miles per hour, they would pay an additional $2500.
Orville flew the speed trial on July 30. He took off with Benjamin Foulois
on board, made two slow climbing turns to about 125 feet, and headed for
Shooter's Hill, about 10 miles away. Foulois started his first stopwatch
as Orville passed the launching derrick. As they rounded the balloon the Army
had tethered on the hill, Foulois started a second stopwatch. Orville made a
steady climb to 400 feet — another record. As soon as he had the Fort
Meyer parade grounds in sight, he nosed the aircraft down slightly and
began to pick up speed. Foulois stopped both watches as Orville shot past the
derrick. Orville flew a victory circle around Arlington Cemetery
and landed. Wilbur came running up, a smile on his face for the first time
in a month. Orville had
flown an average speed of 42.583 miles per hour — yet another record —
qualifying the Wrights for a bonus of $5000. The U.S. Army would pay
$30,000 for the world's first practical military aircraft.
In Their Own Words
- A Day to be Remembered
Benjamin Foulois remembers his record-breaking ride with Orville
Wright on 30 July 1909.
The new and improved 1909 Wright Military
Flyer arriving at the Fort Meyer proving grounds on the back of a
Katharine Wright, no longer teaching at Steele High
School, had become a common sight at test flights.
Soldiers help move the Flyer to the launch track.
Orville and Wilbur readying the Flyer.
Orville about the parade grounds at Fort Meyer.
Orville sets a record during the speed trials.
A victory lap over Arlington Cemetery.