Death of Selfridge – September 17, 1908

On September 17, 1908, Orville Wright and U.S. Army​ First Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge launched the Wright Military Flyer at Fort Myer, VA. Over the previous two weeks, Orville had been conducting test flights. The Wright Brothers had signed a contract with the U.S. Army to purchase an airplane, but qualification tests were required to complete the sale. Orville had already set world records at Fort Myer in exceeding the endurance qualifications, but other requirements included those for a two-man crew.

First Lieutenant Frank Lahm described the event:
“Mr. Wright and Lieut. Selfridge took their places in the machine, and it started at 5:14, circling the field to the left as usual. It had been in the air four minutes and 18 seconds, had circled the field 4 1/2 times and had just crossed the aeroplane shed at the lower end of the field when I heard a report then saw a section of the propeller blade flutter to the ground. I judge the machine at the time was at a height of about 150 feet. It appeared to glide down for perhaps 75 feet advancing in the meantime about 200 feet. At this point it seemed to me to stop, turn so as to head up the field toward the hospital, rock like a ship in rough water, then drop straight to the ground the remaining 75 feet.”

Orville Wright suffered cuts, broken ribs, along with a broken hip and knee. Lt. Selfridge was found unconscious and rushed into surgery. He never regained consciousness and died that evening around 8:10. A full honor military funeral was held for Selfridge at Fort Myer, and then he was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery (Section 3, Grave 2158).

Selfridge Gate, which links Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall​ and Arlington National Cemetery​ was dedicated on September 3, 1958.

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