1908 : Lt. Thomas Selfridge, 1st Passenger to Die in Plane Crash

July 9, 2024 all-day

Four years after their ground-breaking flights at Kitty Hawk, the Wright Brothers submitted a bid to the U.S. War Department to design a plane for $25,000 in January of 1907. This bid was in response to a previous War Department request issued a month earlier for a “Heavier-than-air Flying Machine.” While Wilbur Wright went off to Paris to promote the Wright Flyer, his brother Orville Wright stayed in Dayton, Ohio, to design a plane for the Army Signal Corps, spending over a year on the design and construction.

By August of 1908, the plane was ready, and he headed to Fort Myer, Virginia, where the air trials were to take place. To get this contract, the brothers had to prove that the airplane could successfully carry passengers (the Wright Brothers had been allowing passengers to fly with them since May 14rh, 1908), and meet other mission requirements. One of the passengers during the trials would be twenty-six year-old U.S. Army 1st Lieutenant Thomas E. Selfridge.

On the third test flight, a propeller broke due to excessive vibration as the result of clipping a wire attached to the tail of the plane, causing the plane to crash, killing Selfridge and severely injuring Orville Wright, the pilot.

In July of 1917, after the government leased an aviation field near Mount Clemens, Michigan, from Henry B. Joy, the field was named in honor of Lieutenant Selfridge. It is now Selfridge Air National Guard Base, located about 30 miles north of Detroit.

Source: “The First Fatal Plane Crash…At Fort Myer, Virginia”, Check-six.com

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