The Army’s Specification No. 486

Oct. 1, 2002

“Specification No. 486”

Brig. Gen. James Allen,

Chief Signal Officer of the Army Signal Office

Washington, D.C.,

December 23, 1907


The Army turned down initial overtures by the Wright brothers after their historic 1903 flight. It would be 1908 before it officially embarked on a heavier-than-air flying machine competition.

In preparation, the Army issued Signal Corps Specification No. 486, which established parameters for actual aerial performance, assembly, transport, and operation. There was to be “no extra charge” for training two men to handle and operate the flying machine.

The Army bought the Wright machine for $25,000, plus a $5,000 bonus for exceeding the specified speed. The Wrights fulfilled the remaining condition of their contract by training Army Lieutenants Frank P. Lahm and Frederic E. Humphreys.

December 23, 1907

Signal Corps Specification, No. 486

Advertisement and Specification for

a Heavier-Than-Air Flying Machine

To The Public:Sealed proposals, in duplicate, will be received at this office until 12 o’clock noon on February 1, 1908, … for furnishing the Signal Corps with a heavier-than-air flying machine. …

The flying machine will be accepted only after a successful trial flight, during which it will comply with all requirements of this specification. …

It is desirable that the flying machine should be designed so that it may be quickly and easily assembled and taken apart and packed for transportation in army wagons. It should be capable of being assembled and put in operating condition in about one hour.

The flying machine must be designed to carry two persons having a combined weight of about 350 pounds, also sufficient fuel for a flight of 125 miles.

The flying machine should be designed to have a speed of at least forty miles per hour in still air. …

Before acceptance a trial endurance flight will be required of at least one hour during which time the flying machine must remain continuously in the air without landing. It shall return to the starting point and land without any damage that would prevent it immediately starting upon another flight. During this trial flight of one hour it must be steered in all directions without difficulty and at all times under perfect control and equilibrium. …

The expense of the tests to be borne by the manufacturer. The place of delivery to the Government and trial flights will be at Fort Myer, Virginia.

It should be so designed as to ascend in any country which may be encountered in field service. The starting device must be simple and transportable. It should also land in a field without requiring a specially prepared spot and without damaging its structure. …

It should be sufficiently simple in its construction and operation to permit an intelligent man to become proficient in its use within a reasonable length of time. …

The price quoted in proposals must be understood to include the instruction of two men in the handling and operation of this flying machine. No extra charge for this service will be allowed. …