This Day in Tech History

On This Day . . .

Into the Wild Blue Yonder

1909_Rheims_LeFebre_in_Model_A

August 8, 1908:  Wight Brothers First Public Flight

Wilbur Wright makes his first public flight at a racecourse at Le Mans, France. It is the Wright Brothers’ first public flight.

Wilber (left) and Orville Wright

Wilber (left) and Orville Wright

The brothers’ contracts with the U.S. Army and a French syndicate depended on successful public flight demonstrations that met certain conditions. The brothers had to divide their efforts. Wilbur sailed for Europe; Orville would fly near Washington, D.C.

Facing a lot of skepticism in the French aeronautical community and outright scorn by some newspapers that called him a “bluffeur,” Wilbur began official public demonstrations on August 8, 1908 at the Hunaudières horse racing track near the town of Le Mans, France. His first flight lasted only one minute 45 seconds, but his ability to effortlessly make banking turns and fly a circle amazed and stunned onlookers, including several pioneer French aviators, among them Louis Bleriot.

Wilbur adjusts the engine of his airplane at Le Mans, France. The aircraft was damaged in shipment and had to be rebuilt entirely

Wilbur adjusts the engine of his airplane at Le Mans, France. The aircraft was damaged in shipment and had to be rebuilt entirely

In the following days, Wilbur made a series of technically challenging flights, including figure-eights, demonstrating his skills as a pilot and the capability of his flying machine, which far surpassed those of all other pioneering airplanes and pilots of the day.

Wright Model A Flyer flown by Wilbur 1908–1909 and launching derrick in France

Wright Model A Flyer flown by Wilbur 1908–1909 and launching derrick in France

The French public was thrilled by Wilbur’s feats and flocked to the field by the thousands. The Wright brothers catapulted to world fame overnight. Former doubters issued apologies and effusive praise. L’Aérophile editor Georges Besançon wrote that the flights “have completely dissipated all doubts. Not one of the former detractors of the Wrights dare question, today, the previous experiments of the men who were truly the first to fly….”

Wilbur takes off from Le Mans, France

Wilbur takes off from Le Mans, France

Across the French countryside

Across the French countryside

Leading French aviation promoter Ernest Archdeacon wrote, “For a long time, the Wright brothers have been accused in Europe of bluff… They are today hallowed in France, and I feel an intense pleasure…to make amends.”

Amazing Footage of Wright Brothers in Flight – At the 5.47 mark is the first motion picture made from an airplane

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