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Wright Brothers, 1909-1910

The Aeronautical Board, which conducted the official tests of the 1909 Flyer. From left to right are Lt. Frank Lahm, Lt. George Sweet, Maj. Charles Saltzman, Maj. George Squier, Capt. Charles Chandler, Lt. Benjamin Foulois and Lt. Frederick Humphreys. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The Aeronautical Board, which conducted the official tests of the 1909 Flyer. From left to right are Lt. Frank Lahm, Lt. George Sweet, Maj. Charles Saltzman, Maj. George Squier, Capt. Charles Chandler, Lt. Benjamin Foulois and Lt. Frederick Humphreys. (U.S. Air Force photo)

(U.S. Air Force photo)

(U.S. Air Force photo)

Lt. Benjamin Foulois talking with the Wright brothers during the 1909 trials. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Lt. Benjamin Foulois talking with the Wright brothers during the 1909 trials. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Lt. Frank Lahm and Orville Wright ready for takeoff on the first official flight of the 1909 flyer. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Lt. Frank Lahm and Orville Wright ready for takeoff on the first official flight of the 1909 flyer. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Lt. Benjamin Foulois. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Lt. Benjamin Foulois. (U.S. Air Force photo)

On June 20, 1909, the Wrights returned to Washington with a new and somewhat improved airplane, the 1909 Flyer. Official trials began on July 27 when Orville Wright flew 1 hour, 12 minutes, 40 seconds with Lt. Lahm on board as observer. The final trial flight was made on July 30 when Orville flew the airplane at an average speed of 42 mph with Lt. Foulois as observer. The 1909 Wright Flyer was formally accepted on Aug. 2 and was designated as Signal Corps Airplane No. 1, thereby becoming the world's first military airplane.

Following the acceptance of the 1909 Flyer, aviation activities were moved to College Park, Md., where a larger flying field was available, and on Oct. 8, Wilbur Wright began giving flying lessons to Lts. Lahm and Frederick E. Humphreys. Lt. Humphreys soloed on Oct. 26, becoming the Army's first "pilot." Lt. Lahm soloed several minutes later. Within weeks, both officers were ordered to return to duty with their respective Army units. The Aeronautical Division was left with one airplane and a handful of airplane mechanics, but no pilot.

Fortunately for the future of the U.S. military aviation, one other officer, Lt. Foulois, had ridden in the airplane several times. As a result of this "previous experience," he was ordered to take the airplane to Fort Sam Houston, Texas, and teach himself to fly it, even though he had never made a solo flight or even a takeoff or landing.

On March 2, 1910, he made his first flight and by September had flown the plane on 61 practice hops. During this period, the Wright brothers sent flying instructions through the mail to Lt. Foulois whenever he needed advice on some "unknown" aspect of becoming a pilot. By early 1911, the airplane was in poor condition, having been wrecked and rebuilt by Lt. Foulois on several occasions, and it was retired from further service.

At this time, R.F. Collier, owner of Collier's magazine, offered to lend to the U.S. Army a new 1910 Wright B airplane, which he had just purchased. The Collier plane, together with a Wright factory pilot, Phillip O. Parmalee, arrived in San Antonio in February 1911, and Foulois began to learn to fly the newer type aircraft. During the next several weeks, these two men demonstrated the advantages to be derived from using the airplane for courier duties between military units.

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