Chronology: 1903-1909


March 23, 1903. First Wright brothers’ airplane patent, based on their 1902 glider, is filed in America.

Aug. 8, 1903. The Langley gasoline engine model airplane is successfully launched from a catapult on a houseboat.

Dec. 8, 1903. Second and last trial of the Langley airplane, piloted by Charles M. Manly, is wrecked in launching from a houseboat on the Potomac River in Washington, D.C.

Dec. 17, 1903. At Kill Devil Hill near Kitty Hawk, N.C., Orville Wright flies for about 12 seconds over a distance of 120 feet, achieving the world’s first manned, powered, sustained, and controlled flight in a heavier-than-air machine. The Wright brothers made four flights that day. On the last, Wilbur Wright flew for 59 seconds over a distance of 852 feet. (Three days earlier, Wilbur Wright had attempted the first powered flight, managing to cover 105 feet in 3.5 seconds, but he could not sustain or control the flight and crashed.)

Dawn at Kill Devil

Jewel of the Air


Jan. 18, 1905. The Wright brothers open negotiations with the US government to build an airplane for the Army, but nothing comes of this first meeting.

Keeper File: The First Airplane Offer

Feb. 5, 1905. T.S. Baldwin takes part in a 10-mile race between his dirigible and an automobile. The dirigible and its pilot win by a three-minute margin.

June 23, 1905. The first flight of the Wright Flyer III is made at Huffman Prairie, outside Dayton, Ohio. The Wright brothers’ first fully controllable aircraft is able to turn and bank and remain aloft for up to 30 minutes.

Oct. 5, 1905. Orville Wright flies 24.2 miles in 38 minutes, three seconds at Dayton, Ohio, establishing a world distance and duration record.


May 22, 1906. After turning down two previous submissions, the US government issues the Wright brothers the first patent on their flying machine.

“The Wright Stuff,” Air Force Magazine, July 1987.

Nov. 12, 1906. Brazilian Alberto Santos-Dumont sets the first recognized absolute speed record of 25.66 mph in the Santos-Dumont Type 14-bis at Bagatelle, France. However, this speed is slower than speeds posted by the Wright brothers in the United States.


Aug. 1, 1907. The Aeronautical Division of the US Army Signal Corps, forerunner of US Air Force, is established.

The First of the Force

Keeper File: The Air Force Birth Certificate

Oct. 26, 1907. Henri Farman sets the recognized absolute speed record of 32.74 mph in a Voisin- Farman biplane at Issy-les-Moulineaux, France.

Dec. 5, 1907. Wilbur Wright appears before the Board of Ordnance and Fortification and offers the US government an airplane capable of carrying two people, for $25,000.

Dec. 23, 1907. The Army’s Chief Signal Officer, Brig. Gen. James Allen, issues the first specification (Signal Corps Specification No. 486) for a military airplane.

Keeper File: The Army’s Specification No. 486


Jan. 13, 1908. Henri Farman wins the 50,000-franc Deutsch-Archdeacon Prize for the first officially observed one-kilometer circular flight in Europe.

May 14, 1908. The first passenger flight takes place in the Wright airplane at Kitty Hawk in preparation for delivery of a government airplane. Wilbur Wright pilots the machine, with Charles Furnas, an employee, as the first passenger.

May 19, 1908. Signal Corps Lt. Thomas E. Selfridge becomes the first soldier to fly a heavier-than-air machine.

July 4, 1908. Glenn H. Curtiss wins the Scientific American trophy with his June Bug biplane by flying for more than a mile over Hammondsport, N.Y. Speed for the trip is 39 mph.

Aug. 8, 1908. At Camp d’Auvours, France, Wilbur Wright surpasses French flight records for duration, distance, and altitude.

Aug. 28, 1908. The Army accepts its first dirigible. Built by Thomas Baldwin in Hammondsport, N.Y., at a cost of $6,750, the dirigible is designed to carry a crew of two and a payload of 450 pounds (which includes 100 pounds of ballast). The airship is designated Signal Corps Dirigible No. 1.

Sept. 3, 1908. First test flight of an Army flying machine is made at Ft. Myer, Va., by Orville Wright.

Sept. 17, 1908. Lt. Thomas E. Selfridge becomes the first person killed in a powered aircraft accident when a Wright Flyer crashes at Ft. Myer, Va. Orville Wright, at the controls, suffers a broken hip.

Nov. 13, 1908. Wilbur Wright, in a Wright biplane at Camp d’Auvours, France, and Henri Farman, in a Voisin at Issy, France, concurrently set a world altitude record of 82 feet.


April 24, 1909. Wilbur Wright pilots a Wright biplane at Centocelle, Italy, from which the first aerial motion picture is taken.

June 3, 1909. Orville Wright makes the first demonstration flight of the 1909 Military Flyer for the Army at Ft. Myer, Va.

July 25, 1909. Louis Bleriot, of France, becomes the first person to fly across the English Channel.

July 27, 1909. Orville Wright, with Army Lt. Frank P. Lahm as passenger, flies the 1909 Military Flyer from Ft. Myer, Va., for one hour, 12 minutes, and 40 seconds and covers 40 miles. This first official test flight meets the Army’s endurance requirement as stated in Signal Corps Specification 486, which is the order for the first military airplane.

July 30, 1909. The second test of the Army Wright airplane is completed: a 10-mile cross-country flight over a stipulated course from Ft. Myer, Va., to Alexandria, Va., and back, at a speed of 42.583 mph, for which the Wrights receive a bonus of $5,000 (10 percent of the base price of $25,000 for each mile per hour over 40), making the purchase price $30,000.

Aug. 2, 1909. The Army accepts its first airplane, bought from the Wright brothers for $25,000, plus a $5,000 bonus because the machine exceeds the speed requirement of 40 mph in its second test conducted on July 30, 1909.

The First Military Airplane

Aug. 23, 1909. At the world’s first major air meet in Reims, France, Glenn Curtiss becomes the first American to claim the recognized absolute speed record as he flies at 43.385 mph in his Reims Racer biplane.

Aug. 25, 1909. Land for the first Signal Corps airfield is leased at College Park, Md.

Eighty Years at College Park

Oct. 23, 1909. Army Lt. Benjamin D. Foulois takes his first flying lesson from Wilbur Wright at College Park, Md.


Oct. 26, 1909. Lt. Frederick E. Humphreys becomes the first Army pilot to solo in the Wright Military Flyer, US Army Aeroplane No. 1, at College Park, Md. A few minutes later, Lt. Frank P. Lahm becomes the second.

Nov. 3, 1909. Lt. George C. Sweet becomes the first Navy officer to fly, as a passenger in the Wright Military Flyer. Army Lt. Frank P. Lahm was the pilot.