Wright Flyer 'returns' to Fort Myer after 100 years
September 29, 2008
It took a century to achieve, but for the hundreds gathered in Fort Myer's Conmy Hall Saturday, Sept. 6, it was well worth it.
An exact reproduction of the Wright Flyer, the plane Orville Wright flew over Summerall Field 100 years ago, was started in front of a crowd that included Soldiers, officers, descendants of those involved in the flights and visitors to Fort Myer.
The U.S. Army Band ''Pershing's Own," the Fife and Drum Corps and several other Military District of Washington ceremonial units surrounded the Wright Flyer during the Centennial of Military Aviation's opening ceremony.
Virginia congressman James P. Moran (D-8) spoke about what the occasion meant in the scope of history.
''Today is a chance to mark a milestone in both Virginia and military history. Here at Fort Myer the Wrights tested an aircraft that captured the interest of the military, and later an entire nation," he said.
Retired Maj. Gen. Carl H. McNair talked about how aviation has changed the face of combat, for the better throughout the 20th century.
He went through the major conflicts in the past century, and how each war brought new innovations and how these innovations will affect future generations.
''[The Wright Flyer] will become a catalyst of inspiration for generations to come about the military's role in aviation history," McNair said.
The re-enactors for the event, playing characters such as the Wright brothers and the Roosevelts faced the crowd next to the Wright Flyer after the speeches. As they were introduced, the family members of the characters gave a loud applause when their ancestor was introduced.
Four members of the Wright Experience, the group that built the Wright Flyer reproduction, gathered around the craft to start the engine to commemorate the 100 years since the original flight took place.
Just like in the movies, it took three tries to get it started, but even the loud, gas-powered, 12-horsepower engine couldn't cover up the raucous applause from the crowd.
For descendants of Lt. Thomas Selfridge, the pilot who became the first aviation fatality, the event marked a special moment in their family's history.
''I couldn't believe it," said Barbara Selfridge, the niece of Thomas, and his closest living relative. ''It was very emotional to hear that engine start after all this time."
''It was a great event," said John Selfridge, the great-great nephew of Thomas. ''This whole week I've learned a lot about military aviation as well as my ancestry."
Speaking after the ceremony, Maj. Gen. Richard J. Rowe Jr., commanding general, Joint Force Headquarters-National Capital Region and Military District of Washington, praised the ingenuity of the Wright brothers in creating something that was once thought impossible.
''[The Wright brothers] had no book to look at, no manual to learn from," he said. ''They just had to problem-solve, which is what the military does to this day."