After four years of courting, negotiating, building, and testing, the U.S. Army agreed to purchase a Wright aeroplane in August 1909. An addition to selling the machine, the Wrights also had to train 2 U.S. Army officers to fly it.
The original test site at the Ft. Myer, Virginia, parade ground was deemed too small to safely instruct the Army officers, so the search began for another location. During a balloon ascent, Lieutenant Frank Lahm spotted a large level field in College Park near the Maryland Agricultural College (now the University of Maryland) and adjacent to the B&O railroad tracks. The field was far enough away from the city that officials hoped to discourage the large crowds (of up to 7000 people!) that witnessed the Fort Myer trials. However, the lure of these new activities continued to draw spectators out to College Park.
Early Flight Instruction
A small, temporary hangar was erected at the newly leased College Park field and the field cleared of brush and other obstacles. On October 8, 1909, Wilbur Wright began the flight instruction of Lahm and Lieutenant Frederic Humphreys. After returning from the International Congress of Aeronautics in Nancy, France, Lieutenant Benjamin Foulois began flight instruction under Wilbur and Lieutenant Humphreys in late October.
In November 1909, the Wright contract was fulfilled when both Humphreys and Lahm flew solo after little more than 3 hours of instruction. Though Foulois had nearly the same amount of instruction, the plane was damaged before he had a chance to solo. By 1912, Signal Corps officials decided to transfer the flying operations to a warmer climate. Lieutenant Foulois, the aeroplane, and a detachment of enlisted mechanics transferred to Fort Sam Houston, Texas. Humphreys and Lahm both returned to their original military units, leaving Foulois as the only military pilot.
Photo Courtesy of the National Archives and Record Administration
Photo Courtesy of Wright State University, Special Collections