Inducted in 1971
First Military Officer To Pilot An Airplane, 1908.
First Fatality In Powered Aviation, 1908
1882 – 1908
Lieutenant Thomas Etholen Selfridge, a young West Pointer from San Francisco, joined the Aerial Experimental Association as an observer for the United States government. He corresponded with the Wright brothers on behalf of the A.E.A. and is credited with designing the A.E.A.’s first airplane, the “Red Wing.”
The group’s second machine was the “White Wing.” During tests of this airplane on May 19, 1908, at Hammondsport, New York, Selfridge piloted the craft on a flight of 100 feet. This was the first solo flight by a military officer.
Later the same year, during tests for the United States Army at Fort Myer, Virginia, Selfridge accompanied Orville Wright on the ill-fated flight of September 17. A broken propeller sent the Wright “Flyer A” out of control. Despite Orville’s best efforts to right it, the machine fell 75 feet and crashed. Orville survived but was seriously injured. Lieutenant Selfridge was killed, thus becoming the first fatality in powered aviation.