Wilbur Wright standing, facing to his right, with his elbow on a fireplace mantel in Hart O. Berg's Paris apartment. c/o Wright State University. (Image source:
As the Day of Reckoning finally arrives, changing the course of History forever...
Wilbur Wright, having left straight from practicing flying at Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina for France, arrived in Paris on May 29th and spent the next week with their European solicitor Hart O. Berg, a fellow Yank' who worked in Europe as Flint & Company's representative that the Wright Brothers had hired to be their European agent.
(Hart O. Berg was the European representative of Flint and Company, contracted to help manage the Wright Brothers' business in Europe)
As the pair were seeking an appropriate venue to perform the first ever public demonstration flights of the Wright Flyer, largely believed to be a hoax up to then, due to the supposed secrecy the brothers had toiled in over the past seven years.
On June 8th, with the urging of Leon Bollee by invitation, the two men departed for the mid-evil city of Le Mans, where they were met by the gregarious Monsieur Bollee, in one of his Leon Bollée Automobiles luxury models.
As Monsieur Bollee was noted to have done the most of anybody in France to help the Wright Brothers and never requested anything in return. Giving Wilbur the use of his factory to assemble the Wright Flyer Model A, along with help from factory mechanics.
As Leon said he'd inquire if the Racetrack was available? Three days later, Bollee told the two men that the Horse Racing venue was indeed available and Wilbur immediately returned to Le Mans, eager to begin assembling the Wright Flyer.
Much to his horror a day later, on June 17th, Wilbur discovered that the Flyer was to practically be in shambles inside the various packing crates that had been housed in French customs at the Port of Le Havre.
Thus, Wilbur set to work totally rebuilding the destroyed Aeroplane, almost single handedly, since the French mechanics Bollee loaned to him, didn't understand English, and visa-versa...
Several weeks later, ironically on July 4th, as he was putting the finishing touches on his Aeroplane, unfashionably working late that evening, with just his good friend Leon keeping him company.
As Wilbur began doing engine testing, unexpectedly a radiator hose broke free and shot a torrent of boiling hot water directly at him, scalding him badly on an exposed arm and across his chest. As Leon Bollee, who was the only one present, lowered him to the factory's floor, then ran and got citric acid to swathe Wilbur's burns in!
And although in the Wright Brothers typically stoic fashion, Wilbur completely downplayed the incident, writing to his family in Dayton, Ohio three days later the Doc' had fixed him up like he was a horse. Although Wilbur wouldn't be able to use his left arm for nearly a month's time.
Then, late on the evening of August 6th, pulling back some of the finished Model A Flyer's canvas, Wilbur, with Leon and Hart O. Berg's assistance, hitched the Aeroplane to one of Leon Bollee's fine automobiles and pulled it down the road to the Hunaudieres Race Course, five miles outside Le Mans.
Wilbur delighted in the fact of their not being noticed or discovered by anybody, as the trio put the Flyer inside a shed, locked it's door and drove off in the night.
On Saturday, August 8, 1908, Wilbur Wright stunned the fawning Parisians by finally making his debutant public flight demonstration aboard his gleaming white Wright Flyer that evening at the Hunaudieres Racetrack.
And although the flight lasted just under two minutes duration, nonetheless, Wilbur had not only made a powered flight, but had demonstrated his ability to control the machine by making precision turns, prompting French aviators to grumble, we haven't even began to walk! And we're beaten! After witnessing the Wright Flyer in action.
Wilbur resumed flying on Monday, August 10th to ever increasing crowds, captivating them further by performing two large, lazy Figure-Eights! Then on Aug 13, when pushing one of the levers controlling the innovative wing-warping control surface features the wrong direction, he crashed, bringing demonstrations to a temporary halt.
With repairs complete, the French Army offered him a new larger locale at Camp d’Auvours, some seven miles east of Le Mans.
As Wilbur delighted in the new "Aerodrome," claiming he had four miles of total unobstructions for flying, as the crowds increased daily.
On September 3, 1908, Wilbur's younger brother Orville began demonstration flights of another similar Wright Flyer Model A to the U.S. Army Signal Corps at their field at Fort Meyers, nearby Washington, DC,
with Orville setting new world record after world record much to the ever growing crowds delight!
Then on September 17th, tragedy ultimately struck, when a piece of one of the two wooden propellers inexplicably broke off, damaging critical stabilizing wires with the Wright Flyer crashing down uncontrollably and killing passenger Lt. Thomas Selfridge, the first Aeroplane fatality, whilst Orville was seriously injured with multiple broken bones.
Obviously, Wilbur who was still in Le Mans, was terribly upset and cancelled demonstrations immediately on the grounds of paying his respects to the fallen aviator.
But in typical Wright Brothers tenacity, Wilbur returned to flying shortly after, and on Sept 21st set a new world record for time aloft at just over One hour and 31 minutes while his brother recuperated at Fort Meyers military hospital.
Wilbur continued his amazing demonstration flights at Le Mans thru the end of the year, along with taking scores of passengers for rides, as Edith Berg, wife of Mr. Hart O. Berg became the first American woman in flight when she accompanied Wilbur for a brief flight on October 7th.
Mrs. Hart O. Berg also inspired a fashion craze after having tied her skirt around her legs with rope to prevent it from lifting during flight, which would lead to a prominent Paris fashion designer to invent the Hobble Skirt; Ooh La-la Mon Cherie!
Another passenger bringing admiration to the Wright's creation occurred when the portly Monsieur Bollee, now a close friend of Wilbur's went for a brief flight, as Parisians marveled over the Aeroplane's capabilities to lift the man said to weigh 240lbs.
In six months of flying at Le Mans, 200,000 spectators witnessed Wilbur's astounding demonstration flights.
As Wilbur closed out the eventful year by winning the Michelin Cup on Dec 31, 1908 with a new record flight of 2hrs 23-plus minutes over a distance of some 77 miles! Collecting $20,000 Francs ($4,000.00 USD) prize from Andre Michelin.
Brother Orville and sister Catherine departed for France in the new year, with the three being reunited upon their arrival in Paris on January 12, 1909,
before moving the Wright Flyer demonstrations to Pau in February - due to its warmer temperatures.
As Wilbur would demonstrate the Wright Flyer in Pau before a brief journey to Italy before the trio embarked home to a two day Mega' celebration in Dayton, Ohio, while Orville would return to flying at Fort Meyer on June 29th and successfully complete the Army trials by the end of July, leading to the eventual purchase of the Wright Flyer, the first Aeroplane by the U.S. Army...
I originally read; Err listened to the excellent story The Wright Brothers in October, 2016,via CD Audiobook format. And was amazed to learn about the brothers French Connections, primarily Le Mans and Leon Bollee, for which I'd never heard of before.
Yet in the visually impaired world of "Faux-netics', I mistakenly took Monsieur Bollee's last name to be that of another French Automobile company named Ballot; CRIKEYS!
And thus I checked out David McCullough's great novel The Wright Brothers from Thy local library a second time, appropriately at the end of June, just after some 'lil 'Ol car race over yonder had concluded...
As I've noted the particulars that struck my fancy from Messer McCullough's book in my two-part story, for which I heartedly proclaim is worth reading - for those interested in the beginnings of manned, controllable powered flight...