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The Military Flyer


Chase Hawker
Salt Lake Community College
April 22, 2016

At the end of the 1800s the U.S. Army was at the forefront of new technologies for their
military. Hot Air balloons were being used as a means of observation along with being used for

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other military tactics.1 The idea of flight intrigued the U.S. Army and when they got word of
inventions for man to fly more quickly and efficiently, (through gliders and planes) they were all
on board. During this time period people were excited about these new inventions and many tried
to create their own flying machines. Many of their inventions proved promising but the U.S.
Army seemed to only focus on the Wright Brothers, going great lengths to make sure they were
at the head of the Armys airplane designs. The argument I will make in this paper is how the
U.S. Army made it near impossible for anyone but the Wright Brothers to design their military
aircrafts.
Into the early 1900s American people had become fascinated with the idea and
possibility of flight. Some early inventors created models that mimicked birds, which was
basically all they knew about flying at the time. After little success and some fatal deaths2
something more was going to be needed to make man fly. Soon, a larger scale model of what
could be represented as a bird was built and became what we would call a glider. This wasnt the
first time man was discovering flight. For centuries man has dreamed of and created models for
flight but this was the first time success had been seen. Some were critical of the gliders saying
they werent actually flying. This didnt deter the United States Army, they saw the potential of
what the glider could lead to and the Army helped push the U.S. into the airplane age and excel
the work that had already been done to create a flying machine.

1 Juhette, Hennessy, The United States Army Air Arm, April 1861 To

April 1917 (Accessed March 4, 2016)

2 Wright Brothers Papers - Documents - Letters - Diaries - Notebooks.

(Accessed February 27, 2016)

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The Wright Brothers were among some of the first airplane engineers. They followed in
other inventors footsteps but also created some footsteps of their own. From a USAF historical
studies page more than ten men are mentioned at this time who were working on a flying
machine. These early inventors who ...attempted to solve the riddle of mechanical flight [can]
be divided into two groups: those who first built and learn to control the glider before trying to
apply power, and those who initially attempted to build a machine equipped with an engine.3
The Wright Brothers were a part of the first group, creating a glider based on ideas that had
already been built along with their own modifications to the machine but it didnt involve an
engine. But, several inventors had gone before the Wright Brothers and had successful trial runs
with their model planes. One of such importance is Dr. Samuel P. Langley. He being one of the
first Americans to equip a motor to a flying machine and was in a heated competition with the
Wright Brothers for the U.S. Armys attention years later. 4
The U.S. Army was looking for a flying machine and they wanted it fast! On one
occasion the Chief Signal Officer of the Army sent a letter to the Wright Brothers asking for a
date and time the Wright Brother would like the trials of their flying machine done and he adds,
This inquiry is not with a view of hurrying your construction at all.. I dont really believe that
they didnt want the Wright Brothers to hurry. They were excited and they knew others were
making progress daily. Langley proved successful in many test flights in 1894, and had been
experimenting with aerodynamics since 1885 while at Allegheny Observatory, the college he was
a Professor at.5 The Wright Brothers first began construction of their glider in 1899 in their
bicycle shop, almost 15 years after Dr. Langley. When compared to a Professor at a college it
seems a little less likely that a couple of boys from Ohio were going to greatly influence the
3 Ibid, 1
4 Ibid, 1
5 Ibid, 1

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United States Military in only a few short years. The Wright Brothers worked extensively for the
next several years building a plane that could fly efficiently.6 During this period Dr. Langley
received varies large donations to continue his experiments. These interactions were made
between a joint board of army and navy officers, the Board of Ordnance and Fortification,
Secretary of War and President McKinley and the Chief Signal Officer receiving over 125,000 to
further his experiments.7 Many were excited to support Langley in his experiments but soon cut
him off around the time the Wright Brothers arrived on the scene. What would the Wright
Brothers have to offer in only two years that Dr. Langley wasnt well equipped to handle?
The U.S. army was interested in the Wrights major accomplishments but not because they
were sold on the glider for their military, but for the potential they saw if they could attach a
motor to it. Although the Wright Brothers were new to the work of flying they were not new to
the idea. Since they were little boys they were fascinated with the stories of aeronautical
inventors, the sport of kite flying and a helicopter toy their father brought home that would soar
high in the air and wouldnt fall to the ground like they thought. 8 The Wrights mention two
schools at this time that devoted their time to flight. The first, represented by such men as
Professor Langley and Sir Hiram Maxim, gave chief attention to power flight; the second,
represented by Lilienthal, Mouillard, and Chanute, to soaring flight. Our sympathies were with
the latter school..., expressing the second route seemed a much cheaper and that the beauties of
sailing through the air on fixed wings, deriving the motive power from the wind itself. 9 The

6 Wright, Orville and Wilbur.The Wright Brothers Aeroplane. THE CENTURY

MAGAZINE. September, 1908 No. 5 (Accessed February 27, 2016)


7 Ibid, 1

8 Ibid, 6
9 Ibid, 6

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Brothers wanted to build something they remembered from their youth, a device that flew on
nothing but air.
Towards the end of 1907 the U.S. army grew more impatient waiting for their flying
machine. Langley failed the Armys flight tests and extended his contract too many times that the
Army gave up on him.10 The Wright Brother process slowed up from 1903-1907.They spent their
time traveling and proposing their airplane to potential buyers. One of which was the U.S. Army
who in 1905 did not see the practicality of their flying machine. James Allen, the Brigadier
General, Chief Signal Officer of the Army sent out a proposal letter on December 23, 1907 to the
public stating: Sealed proposals, in duplicate, will be received at this office until 12 o'clock
noon on February 1, 1908, on behalf of the Board of Ordinance and Fortification for furnishing
the Signal Corps with a heavier-than-air flying machine.11 They were calling any and all to build
them a flying machine! But there was a catch. The proposal built played favorites. It is recorded
that Wilbur, one of the Wright Brothers, was present at the time the U.S. Signal Corps had their
meeting and based their qualifications off what Wilbur thought the Wright Brothers could
accomplish. The Board was convinced of the reliability of Wilbur Wrights statements and
asked General Allen to issue specifications based on the statements of the Wright Brothers and
any other airplane designer. The specifications given by the Army were far more advanced than
anything the Wright Brothers or any other airplane designer had built, but the Wrights had an
upper hand on the competition because of the influence they were able to make at the
specifications meeting.
January 3, 1908 the U.S. Army sent this proposal to the Wright Brothers to make sure they were
up to date on their plans. The actual proposal didnt have to be in for another month and for most
10 Ibid, 1
11 "The Wright Story/Showing the World/Alexander Graham Bell to His Wife Mabel Hubbard
Bell." Signal Corps Specification No. 486. (Accessed March 04, 2016.)

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inventors the plane the Army wanted was far too advanced for anything any of them had
structured. A total of 4112 proposals according one article and 4013 of another were sent in. Out of
the proposals the U.S. Army quickly narrowed it down to three. The main reasons for those that
didnt make the cut were because of not following directions, meeting the specific requirements
or not having a reputation of a successful flying machine.14 The Wright Brothers received an
acceptance letter for their flying machine nine days after15 all proposals were to be submitted and
it is said their proposal was accepted within the first three hours of arrival.16 In all, three
proposals were accepted for further developing. The Wrights with a bid of $25,000 to build their
airplane and 200 days to finish it. Mr. Herring asking for $20,000 and 180 days to accomplish his
proposal and lastly Mr. Scott who only wanted $1,000 and 185 days to build his machine. 17 It
can be assumed that the Board would have preferred to accept the Wrights proposal because of
the evidence of their successful flights and because the specifications had been written around
their plane, But, the Board had only been given a $21,000 budget for that year and had no extra
funds to spend, seemingly knocking the Wrights out of the running. After the Signal Corps
Officers racked their brains for some way to include the Wrights bid, someone remembered the
President had at his disposal a small appropriation made by Congress during the war with Spain;
there was no limitation on the use of the sum and it could be spent for whatever purpose the

12

Wright, Orville and Wilbur. Wright Brothers 1908 PROPOSAL FOR A


HEAVIER-THAN-AIR FLYING MACHINE. The Proposal Guru. Pp. 32.
(Accessed February 22, 2016.)

13 Subject File: United States--War DepartmentArmy Signal CorpsCorrespondence,

1908. The Library of Congress. (Accessed February 24, 2016.)


14 Ibid, 12
15 Ibid, 2
16 Ibid, 12
17 Ibid, 14

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President desired. Immediately all three bids were received. The Government found it wisest to
increase all their chances of getting their flying machine. 18
Mr. Scott didnt last long not being able to sustain his project financially. Mr. Herring was
mentored by two inventors mentioned earlier Langley and Chaunte, and his time in the running
seemed promising until he wasnt ready on the day scheduled. After an extension of time and not
coming through Herring dropped out leaving the Wrights as the only bidders left. The Wrights
had been waiting for this opportunity and they came prepared. After years of skepticism and
failure to create a successful and reliable flying machine the Wright Brothers were making
history. Soon contracts were signed and both parties were getting what they wanted, a flying
machine a pilot could control.
This fondness the Military had for the Wright Brothers wasnt that unusual as I started
looking at multiple sources and the similarities they had. It is portrayed in most articles as the
Wright Brothers having a head on competitors and most favorable in the eyes of the public, not
only in America but World Wide. British authorities had been in close contact with the Wright
brothers and it is noted the Wrights were not responsible for the failure of the British authorities
to acquire their invention. The Wright brothers had demonstrated their invention to any and all
who would be interested in purchasing their machine. It can be briefly analyzed in the early years
of the Wrights plane the U.S. was not interested but after many negotiations the Wrights had
with British authorities for the U.S. seems to become more curious.19 Newspapers were plastered
with articles about the Wright Brothers and their experiments of flights, whether successful or
not the media loved these new celebrities, producing almost 6,000 newspaper clippings from
18 Ibid, 1
19 Sokolow, Jayme A. "Wright Brothers 1908 PROPOSAL FOR A HEAVIER-THAN-AIR FLYING
MACHINE." Accessed April 24, 2016. Wright Brothers 1908 PROPOSAL FOR A HEAVIER-THANAIR FLYING MACHINE.

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1902-1914 about their endeavors. 20 Other airplane engineers seem to have little recognition or
documentation for their advancements. Although many helped the U.S Army develop the aircraft
they needed we can see how great an impact the Wright brothers had in that process. The
brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright have, more than anyone else, deserved the success they
achieved.21

20 Wright Brothers Newspaper Articles 1902 - 1914." Wright Brothers Newspaper Articles 1902
- 1914. (Accessed April 24, 2016)

21 Ibid, 19

Bibliography
Primary
Allen, James. U.S. Signal Corps Agreement and Specifications for a HeavierThan-Air Flying Machine. Special Collection & Archives. Dayton: Wright
State University Libraries. (Accessed February 22, 2016.)
http://www.libraries.wright.edu/special/wrightbrothers/packet/signal
The Wright Story/Showing the World/Alexander Graham Bell to His Wife
Mabel Hubbard Bell. Signal Corps Specification No. 486.
http://www.wrightbrothers.org/History_Wing/Wright_Story/Showing_the_World/Back_in_Air
/Signal_Corps_Spec.htm. (Accessed March 04, 2016.)
Juhette, Hennessy, The United States Army Air Arm, April 1861 To April 1917
http://www.afhra.af.mil/shared/media/document/AFD-090602-017.pdf
(Accessed March 4, 2016)
Subject File: United States--War DepartmentArmy Signal Corps
Correspondence, 1908. The Library of
Congress.https://www.loc.gov/item/wright002776 (Accessed February
24, 2016.)
Wright Brothers Newspaper Articles 1902 - 1914. Wright Brothers Newspaper
Articles 1902 1914.http://www.paperlessarchives.com/wbscrapbooks.html (Accessed
February 27, 2016)
Wright, Orville and Wilbur. Wright Brothers 1908 PROPOSAL FOR A HEAVIERTHAN-AIR FLYING MACHINE. The Proposal Guru. Pp. 32.
http://theproposalguru.com/wpcontent/uploads/2014/02/Wright_Brothe
rs_1908.df
(Accessed February 22, 2016.)

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Wright Brothers Papers - Documents - Letters - Diaries - Notebooks.


http://www.paperlessarchives.com/wright_brothers_papers.html
(Accessed February 27, 2016)
Wright, Orville and Wilbur.The Wright Brothers Aeroplane. THE CENTURY
MAGAZINE. September, 1908 No. 5
http://www.libraries.wright.edu/special/wrightbrothers/packet/centurym
agazine.pdf (Accessed February 27, 2016)

Secondary
Sokolow, Jayme A. "Wright Brothers 1908 PROPOSAL FOR A HEAVIER-THAN-AIR
FLYING MACHINE." Accessed April 24, 2016. Wright Brothers 1908 PROPOSAL
FOR A HEAVIER-THAN-AIR FLYING MACHINE.