Little Bits of History

No Fear of Flying

Posted in History by patriciahysell on September 17, 2011

The crashed Wright Flyer

September 17, 1908: Orville Wright crashes the Wright Flyer and his passenger, Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge, is killed. Selfridge was the first person to die in a crash of a powered airplane. He was a First Lieutenant in the Aeronautical Division, US Signal Corps of the US Army stationed at Fort Meyers,Virginia.

Selfridge was born in San Francisco, California in 1882 and graduated from West Point in 1903. He ranked 31st in a class of 96 – Douglas MacArthur was first in the class. He was one of three pilots trained to fly the Army’s newly purchased dirigible. He took his first plane flight on December 6, 1907 on Alexander Graham Bell’s tetrahedral kite made of 3,393 winged cells. They flew for seven minutes covering 168 feet and Selfridge was the first recorded flight passenger. He also designed Red Wing for Aerial Experiment Association (Bell’s flight company) – their first powered craft.

The Army was considering buying a plane from the Wright Brothers. To demonstrate the craft, Orville went up with his passenger, Lt. Selfridge. They circled the fort 4.5 times without problem. Then the right propeller broke. This caused a loss of thrust which set up a vibration which in turn caused the split propeller to cut a guy wire which braced the rudder. The plane was cruising at 150 feet altitude when it began to nose dive. Orville controlled the glide about half way down before losing control. The plane crashed nose first into the ground.

Both the pilot and passenger were struck against the remaining wires on impact. Selfridge also struck his head against a wooden upright and suffered a skull fracture. He underwent neurosurgery but died without ever regaining consciousness. He was 26. Orville Wright suffered several serious injuries as well including fractured ribs, injured hip and broken femur. He spent seven weeks in the hospital recuperating. The Army bought its first military plane in 1909.

“When once you have tasted flight you will always walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward: for there you have been and there you will always be.” – Henry Van Dyke

“You define a good flight by negatives: you didn’t get hijacked, you didn’t crash, you didn’t throw up, you weren’t late, you weren’t nauseated by the food. So you are grateful.” – Paul Theroux

“I wouldn’t mind dying in a plane crash. It’d be a good way to go. I don’t want to die in my sleep, or of old age, or OD…I want to feel what it’s like. I want to taste it, hear it, smell it. Death is only going to happen to you once; I don’t want to miss it.” – Jim Morrison

“If Beethoven had been killed in a plane crash at the age of 22, it would have changed the history of music, and of aviation.” – Tom Stoppard

Also on this day:
His Imperial Majesty Emperor Norton I – In 1859, Joshua Abraham Norton proclaims himself Emperor of the US.
One Dam Thing – in 1930, construction began on Boulder Dam.