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in 1905, the Wrights attempted to sell their invention. They first offered it to the
United States armed forces, suggesting it would be useful for scouting. Their congressman,
Robert M. Nevin, supported the Wrights, but their offer and his influence could not
persuade the military bureaucracy that there was anything useful about an airplane. The
U.S. Army Board of Ordnance and Fortification turned the Wright Brothers down three times
before the end of 1905. They had similar luck when they tried to sell an airplane to the
governments of England, France, Germany, and Russia.
But in late 1907, their luck
started to change. Aware that advances in aviation would soon make the
airplane and the airship potential means of observing a
battlefield, the US Army Signal Corps created an Aeronautical
Division. By chance, one of the members of this new division, First
Lt. Frank P. Lahm, met the Wright brothers while they were in France
trying to sell their invention. Lahm wrote his superior, Brigadier
General James Allen, urging the Army to take another look at the
Wrights' offer. That letter convinced the Army to at least talk to
the Wrights. They opened negotiations when the Wrights returned from
Europe and on December 23, 1907, the Army issued "Signal Corps
Specification No. 486" advertising for a flying machine that could carry a pilot and
a passenger for 125 miles at speeds up to 40 miles per hour. It was tailored
to the capabilities of the Wright airplane. Then, in the spring of 1908,
a syndicate of French businessmen came together to manufacture and sell Wright airplanes
in Europe, provided the Wrights could deliver and demonstrate a working aircraft.
Suddenly, the Wrights were shorthanded. The French wanted a flying demonstration by
late spring, the Army by summer, barely enough time to build a single plane, let alone
two. The Wrights found themselves in the position of a man who boasts "I can do
that" just to get a job, then has to hurry up and figure out how to do it so as not
to let his customers down. The Wrights had told the Board of Ordnance that they could
build an airplane capable of carrying two people. But they had never flown with two people
aboard all their flights at Huffman Prairie had been solo. Additionally, they knew
that their old engine hadn't enough power to push two people through the air, and that
their old control system wouldn't work with two people on board in a sitting position.
They needed a new engine and a new control system and they needed to test them before
any demonstration flights. They set their one and only mechanic, Charley Taylor, to
building a 40-horsepower engine, while they began to modify the control system and seating
arrangement of the Wright Flyer 3.
During this time, Charley Furnas was working for the Platt Iron Works, and was
apparently not using the mechanic's skills that he had picked up in the Navy. He counted
it as good fortune when he was laid off in January 1908 and almost immediately got a job
with a machinist named Roos. Mr. Roos' shop was at Sprague and Third Street, within
walking distance of the Wright bicycle shop at 1127 West Third. Charley began visiting in
his spare time, offering to do odd jobs and repeatedly expressing his desire to learn to
fly. The Wrights, caught in a time crunch, let him help Charley Taylor, even though they
didn't have enough money to hire him full time. He received his first paycheck from the
Wrights on April 11, 1908, probably paying him for over 100 hours of part-time labor. The
check was for $35.
In 1908, $35 was a considerable sum, similar to being paid over a thousand dollars
today. Charley was unmarried, he had no kids, and his living expenses were small. So a
considerable portion of that paycheck was "discretionary income" in Charley's
eyes. What he decided to do with it would put him in the history books.
Although the Wrights began designing a four-cylinder, 40-horsepower engine in
1906, they still hadn't tested it on an airplane in early 1908.