Caught on Camera:
Wilbur Wright's 1908 Flying Demonstration in France
On August 8, 1908, at a horse-racing track at Hunaudières near Le Mans, France, Wilbur Wright made the first official public demonstration of the flying machine he and his brother, Orville, had designed a few years before. During Wilbur’s first few flights, though brief in time aloft, he effortlessly made banking turns and flew figure eights that amazed and stunned the onlookers.
Wilbur and Orville Wright may have been the first to fly a powered, heavier-than-air plane in 1903, but over the next few years a number of inventors, most of them French, had also produced flyable aircraft. Many of these French efforts were conducted in public, while the Wright brothers had chosen to continue their development work in private. Very few people had ever seen the Wright Flyer in the air. In fact, many Frenchmen doubted that the brothers had flown at all.
Wilbur Wright laid that skepticism to rest with his series of spectacular flights in France between August and December 1908--capturing the attention of the world. His airborne demonstrations generated international recognition for the ability of the Wrights’ biplane to perform sustained, controllable flight.* Other airplanes of the time could not easily navigate banks and turns the way the Wright brothers’ Flyer could.
Wilbur Wright’s historic flights in France were captured on camera in a collection of glass plate negatives acquired in 2000 by The Henry Ford.
* While Wilbur demonstrated the Wright Flyer in France, his brother, Orville, was giving equally convincing demonstrations of the Flyer in Fort Myer, Virginia to the U.S. military that ultimately led to a government manufacturing contract for the Flyer.