Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge (1882–1908)
|Born||February 8, 1882|
San Francisco, California
|Died||September 17, 1908 26) (aged|
Fort Myer, Virginia
Arlington National Cemetery Section 3 Gravesite 2158
|Years of service||1903–1908|
|Unit||Aeronautical Division, U.S. Signal Corps|
|Relations|| Thomas O. Selfridge, Sr. (grandfather),|
Thomas O. Selfridge, Jr. (uncle)
Thomas Etholen Selfridge (February 8, 1882 – September 17, 1908) was a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army and the first person to die in an airplane crash. He was also the first Active Duty member of the U.S. military to die in a crash while on duty. He was killed while seated as a passenger in the Wright Flyer, on a demonstration flight piloted by Orville Wright.
Selfridge was born on February 8, 1882, in San Francisco, California.He was the grandson of Rear Admiral Thomas Oliver Selfridge Sr. He graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1903 and received his commission in the Artillery Corps. He was 31st in a class of 96; Douglas MacArthur was first. In 1907, when the Artillery Corps was separated into the Field Artillery and Coast Artillery Corps, Selfridge was assigned to the 5th Field Artillery Regiment and the following year to the 1st Field Artillery Regiment.
Selfridge was stationed at the Presidio during the great San Francisco earthquake of April 18, 1906. His unit participated in search and rescue as well as cleanup operations.In 1907, he was assigned to the Aeronautical Division, U.S. Signal Corps at Fort Myer, Virginia, where he was later instructed in flying a dirigible. He was also the United States government representative to the Aerial Experiment Association, which was chaired by Alexander Graham Bell, and he became its first secretary.
Selfridge took his first flight on December 6, 1907, on Bell's tetrahedral kite, the Cygnet , made of 3,393 winged cells. It took him 168 feet in the air above Bras d'Or Lake in Nova Scotia, Canada, and flew for seven minutes. This was the first recorded passenger flight of any heavier-than-air craft in Canada.[ citation needed ] He also flew a craft built by a Canadian engineer, Frederick W. Baldwin, which flew three feet off the ground for a distance of about 100 feet.
Selfridge designed Red Wing , the Aerial Experiment Association's first powered aircraft. On March 12, 1908, the Red Wing, piloted by Frederick W. Baldwin, raced over the frozen surface of Keuka Lake near Hammondsport, New York, on runners and managed to fly 318 feet, 11 inches, before crashing. Red Wing was destroyed in a crash on its second flight on March 17, 1908, and only the engine could be salvaged.
On May 19, 1908, Selfridge became the first US military officer to pilot a modern aircraft when he flew solo in AEA's newest craft, White Wing , traveling 100 feet on his first attempt and 200 feet on his second. Between May 19 and August 3, he made several flights at Hammondsport, culminating in a flight of one minute and thirty seconds at a height of 75 feet. The next day his final solo flight of fifty seconds covered a distance of 800 yards. Although not fully trained as a pilot, Selfridge was nevertheless the first U.S. military officer to fly any airplane unaccompanied.
In August 1908, Selfridge was one of three pilots trained to fly the Army Dirigible Number One, purchased by the US Army from Thomas Scott Baldwin in July 1908; his training partners were Lieutenants Frank P. Lahm and Benjamin Foulois. The dirigible was scheduled to fly from Fort Omaha, Nebraska, to exhibitions at the Missouri State Fair in Sedalia, Missouri, piloted by Foulois and Selfridge. However, the Army had tentatively agreed to purchase an airplane from the Wright Brothers and had scheduled the acceptance trials in September. Selfridge, with an interest in both heavier-than-air and lighter-than-air ships, obtained an appointment and traveled to Fort Myer, Virginia.
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In September 1908, Orville Wright visited Fort Myer to demonstrate the 1908 Wright Military Flyer for the US Army Signal Corps division. On September 17, Selfridge arranged to be his passenger and Wright piloted the craft. On this occasion, the Flyer was carrying more weight than it had ever done before; the combined weight of the two men was approximately 320 lbs.
The Flyer circled Fort Myer 4½ times at a height of 150 feet. Halfway through the fifth circuit, at 5:14 in the afternoon, the right-hand propeller broke, losing thrust. This set up a vibration, causing the split propeller to hit a guide wire bracing the rear vertical rudder. The wire tore out of its fastening and shattered the propeller; the rudder swiveled to the horizontal and sent the Flyer into a nose-dive. Wright shut off the engine and managed to glide to about 75 feet, but the craft hit the ground nose first. Both men were thrown forward against the remaining wires and Selfridge struck one of the wooden uprights of the framework, fracturing the base of his skull. He underwent neurosurgery but died three hours later without regaining consciousness. Wright suffered severe injuries, including a broken left thigh, several broken ribs, and a damaged hip, and was hospitalized for seven weeks.
Orville Wright later described the fatal accident in a letter to his brother, Wilbur Wright:
On the fourth round, everything seemingly working much better and smoother than any former flight, I started on a larger circuit with less abrupt turns. It was on the very first slow turn that the trouble began. ... A hurried glance behind revealed nothing wrong, but I decided to shut off the power and descend as soon as the machine could be faced in a direction where a landing could be made. This decision was hardly reached, in fact, I suppose it was not over two or three seconds from the time the first taps were heard, until two big thumps, which gave the machine a terrible shaking, showed that something had broken. ... The machine suddenly turned to the right and I immediately shut off the power. Quick as a flash, the machine turned down in front and started straight for the ground. Our course for 50 feet was within a very few degrees of the perpendicular. Lt. Selfridge up to this time had not uttered a word, though he took a hasty glance behind when the propeller broke and turned once or twice to look into my face, evidently to see what I thought of the situation. But when the machine turned head first for the ground, he exclaimed 'Oh! Oh!' in an almost inaudible voice.
Two photographs taken of the Flyer just prior to the flight, show that Selfridge was not wearing any headgear, while Wright was only wearing a cap. [ citation needed ]Selfridge would most likely have survived the crash if he had been wearing a helmet of some kind. Following the crash, and as a direct result of Selfridge's death, first pilots of the US Army were instructed to wear large heavy headgear reminiscent of early football helmets.
Thomas Selfridge was buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Section 3 Gravesite 2158, adjacent to Fort Myer.
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Selfridge Air National Guard Base is named after him. The base is located in Harrison Township, Michigan, near Mt. Clemens, 22 miles NNE of Downtown Detroit, Michigan (from the US Port of Entry at the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel).
Though buried in Arlington National Cemetery, Selfridge is memorialized by a large cenotaph in Section XXXIV of West Point Cemetery.
The damaged propeller of the Wright Flyer wrecked at Fort Myer can be viewed at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, in Dayton, Ohio.
A gate between Arlington National Cemetery and Fort Myer, located approximately halfway between the two chapels on Fort Myer, is named "Selfridge Gate", in his honor.
The Wright brothers—Orville and Wilbur —were two American aviation pioneers generally credited with inventing, building, and flying the world's first successful motor-operated airplane. They made the first controlled, sustained flight of a powered, heavier-than-air aircraft with the Wright Flyer on December 17, 1903, 4 mi (6 km) south of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. In 1904–05, the brothers developed their flying machine to make longer-running and more aerodynamic flights with the Wright Flyer II, followed by the first truly practical fixed-wing aircraft, the Wright Flyer III. The Wright brothers were also the first to invent aircraft controls that made fixed-wing powered flight possible.
Charles Edward Taylor was an American inventor, mechanic and machinist. He built the first aircraft engine used by the Wright brothers in the Wright Flyer, and was a vital contributor of mechanical skills in the building and maintaining of early Wright engines and airplanes.
Fort Myer is the previous name used for a U.S. Army post next to Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington County, Virginia, and across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. Founded during the American Civil War as Fort Cass and Fort Whipple, the post merged in 2005 with the neighboring Marine Corps installation, Henderson Hall, and is today named Joint Base Myer–Henderson Hall.
The Aerial Experiment Association (AEA) was a Canadian-American aeronautical research group formed on 30 September 1907, under the leadership of Dr. Alexander Graham Bell.
This is a list of aviation-related events from 1909:
This is a list of aviation-related events from 1908:
This is a list of aviation-related events from 1905:
The Red Wing was an early aircraft designed by Thomas Selfridge and built by the Aerial Experiment Association in 1908. It was named for the bright red color of its silk wings - chosen to achieve the best result with the photographic materials and techniques of the day.
The June Bug was an American "pioneer era" aircraft designed and flown by Glenn H. Curtiss and built by the Aerial Experiment Association (A.E.A) in 1908. The June Bug is famous for winning the first aeronautical prize, the Scientific American Cup, ever awarded in the United States.
The Wright Flyer III was the third powered aircraft by the Wright Brothers, built during the winter of 1904–05. Orville Wright made the first flight with it on June 23, 1905. The Flyer III had an airframe of spruce construction with a wing camber of 1-in-20 as used in 1903, rather than the less effective 1-in-25 used in 1904. The new machine was equipped with the engine and other hardware from the scrapped Flyer II and—after major modifications—achieved much greater performance than Flyers I and II.
Benjamin Delahauf Foulois was a United States Army general who learned to fly the first military planes purchased from the Wright Brothers. He became the first military aviator as an airship pilot, and achieved numerous other military aviation "firsts". He led strategic development of the Air Force in the United States.
The Wright Model A was an early aircraft produced by the Wright Brothers in the United States beginning in 1906. It was a development of their Flyer III airplane of 1905. The Wrights built about seven Model As in their bicycle shop during the period 1906–1907 in which they did no flying. One of these was shipped to Le Havre in 1907 in order to demonstrate it to the French. The Model A had a 35-horsepower (26 kW) engine and seating for two with a new control arrangement. Otherwise it was identical to the 1905 airplane. The Model A was the first aircraft that they offered for sale, and the first aircraft design to enter serial production anywhere in the world. Apart from the seven machines the Wrights built themselves in 1906–1907, they sold licences for production in Europe with the largest number of Model As actually being produced in Germany by Flugmaschine Wright GmbH, which built about 60 examples.
The Aeronautical Division, Signal Corps (1907–1914) was the first heavier-than-air military aviation organization in history and the progenitor of the United States Air Force. A component of the U.S. Army Signal Corps, the Aeronautical Division procured the first powered military aircraft in 1909, created schools to train its aviators, and initiated a rating system for pilot qualifications. It organized and deployed the first permanent American aviation unit, the 1st Aero Squadron, in 1913. The Aeronautical Division trained 51 officers and 2 enlisted men as pilots, and incurred 13 fatalities in air crashes. During this period, the Aeronautical Division had 29 factory-built aircraft in its inventory, built a 30th from spare parts, and leased a civilian airplane for a short period in 1911.
Frederick Walker Baldwin, also known as Casey Baldwin, paternal grandson of Canadian reform leader Robert Baldwin, was a hydrofoil and aviation pioneer and partner of the famous inventor Alexander Graham Bell. He was manager of Graham Bell Laboratories from 1909–32, and represented Victoria in the Nova Scotia Legislature from 1933–37, where he was instrumental in bringing about the creation of Cape Breton Highlands National Park. In 1908, he became the first Canadian and British subject to fly an airplane.
Frank Purdy Lahm was an American aviation pioneer, the "nation's first military aviator", and a general officer in the United States Army Air Corps and Army Air Forces.
The Wright Flying School, also known as the Wright School of Aviation, was operated by the Wright Company from 1910 to 1916 and trained 119 individuals to fly Wright airplanes.
Katharine Wright Haskell was the younger sister of aviation pioneers Wilbur and Orville Wright. She was a high school teacher and later became an international celebrity when she accompanied her famous brothers in Europe.
Leighton Wilson Hazelhurst Jr. was a pioneer aviator who was killed in an aircrash with Al Welsh piloting. Hazelhurst was the third United States Army officer to die in an aviation accident. The two to die before him were Thomas Etholen Selfridge and George Edward Maurice Kelly.
George Edward Maurice Kelly was the twelfth pilot of the U.S. Army's Aeronautical Division, U.S. Signal Corps and the first member of the U.S. military killed in the crash of an airplane he was piloting. He was the second U.S. Army aviation fatality, preceded by Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge who was killed while flying as an observer in a Wright Flyer piloted by Orville Wright on 17 September 1908.
Falling from a height of 75 feet, Orville Wright and Lieut. Thomas E. Selfridge of the Signal Corps were buried in the wreckage of Wright's aeroplane shortly after 5 o'clock this afternoon. The young army officer died at 8:10 o'clock to-night. Wright is badly hurt, although he probably will recover.
Thomas E. Selfridge was born in San Francisco on February 2, 1882. Little is known about his early life. He was graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point with the Class of 1903. Selfridge ranked 31st in the class of 96 cadets that year; future general Douglas MacArthur was first.
The spectators stood momentarily stunned. Then they surged across the field to the plane. The post commander sensed that the situation could get out of hand and ordered a cavalry guard forward to stem the tide. "If they don't stand back," he yelled, "ride them down!"
Le Mans, France, September 18, 1908. Wilbur Wright, brother of Orville Wright, and who has been conducting a series of experiments here for several weeks with a Wright aeroplane, was very much perturbed when he heard this morning the news from Washington that his brother had suffered an accident, in which Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge lost his life.
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