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Heavier-than-Air Flight

On December 23, 1907, the Signal Corps published Signal Corps Specification No. 486, an “Advertisement and Specifications for a Heavier-than-Air Flying Machine,” with proposals due February 1, 1908. The announcement specified:

“[the] flying machine will be accepted only after a successful trial flight, during which it will comply with all the requirements of this specification. No payments on account will be made until after the trial flight and acceptance.”

Orville Wright flying at Fort Meyer, Va., Library of Congress, George Grantham Bain Collection

There were also incentives built into the specifications – the Signal Corps would pay up to 140% of the bid price for exceeding the speed specifications of 40 miles per hour, but there were also disincentives for not achieving that speed.

Wilbur Wright and G.M. Cramer "timing the flight," surrounded by U.S. Army officers, Fort Myer, Virginia, Library of Congress

A contract was signed with the Wright Brothers of Dayton, Ohio on February 10, 1908, specifying delivery within 200 days of receipt of order to Fort Myer, Va. The contract was for $25,000. Ultimately, the plane was delivered on time, but there was a  fatal crash during initial testing on September 17, 1908.


Signal Corps No. 1 in its original configuration at College Park, MD, in October 1909


Trials were resumed in July 1909, with the result being a $30,000 payout to the Wright Brothers (for exceeding speed by 2 mph and exceeding the time flight requirement), and acceptance of Signal Corps No. 1.

Note: This blog written by Susan Thompson, Command Historian, and edited/posted by Chrissie.

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