THOMAS E. SELFRIDGE Biography - Famous Sports men and women


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Name: Thomas Etholen Selfridge                                                             
Born: 8 February 1882                                                                     
Died: 17 September 1908                                                                   
Thomas Etholen Selfridge (February 8, 1882 - September 17, 1908) was a First               
Lieutenant in the U.S. Army and the first person to die in a crash of a powered           
Selfridge was born in San Francisco, California in 1882 and graduated from                 
West Point in 1903. He was 31st in a class of 96; Douglas MacArthur was first.             
After receiving his commission in the Field Artillery, he was assigned to the             
Aeronautical Division, U.S. Signal Corps at Fort Myer, Virginia. There he was             
one of three pilots trained to fly the Army Dirigible Number One, purchased in             
July, 1908 from Thomas Scott Baldwin. He was also the United States government             
representative to the Aerial Experiment Association, which was chaired by                 
Alexander Graham Bell, and became its first secretary.                                     
Selfridge took his first flight on December 6, 1907 on Alexander Graham Bell's             
tetrahedral kite, the Cygnet, made of 3,393 winged cells. It took him 168 feet (51         
metres) in the air above Bras d'Or Lake in Nova Scotia, Canada and flew for               
seven minutes. This was the first recorded flight carrying a passenger of any             
heavier-than-air-craft in Canada. He also flew a craft built by a Canadian                 
engineer, Frederick W. Baldwin, which flew three feet off the ground for about             
100 feet.                                                                                 
Selfridge designed Red Wing, the Aerial Experiment Association's first powered             
aircraft. On March 12, 1908, the Red Wing, piloted by Frederick W. Baldwin,               
raced over the frozen surface of Keuka Lake near Hammondsport, New York on                 
runners, and actually flew 318 feet, 11 inches (97.2 m), before crashing. Red             
Wing was destroyed in a crash on its second flight on March 17, 1908, and only             
the engine could be salvaged.                                                             
In August of 1908, Selfridge, along with Lieutenants Frank P. Lahm and Benjamin           
Foulois, was instructed in flying a dirigible purchased by the US Army in July.           
The dirigible was scheduled to fly from Fort Omaha, Nebraska to exhibitions at             
the Missouri State Fair, in St. Joseph, Missouri, with Foulois and Selfridge as           
the pilots. However, the Army had also tentatively agreed to purchase an                   
airplane from the Wright Brothers and had scheduled the acceptance trials in               
September. Selfridge, with an interest in both heavier-than-air and lighter-than-air       
ships, obtained an appointment and traveled to Fort Myer, Virginia.                       
Crashed Wright Flyer that took the life of Selfridge.                                     
When Orville Wright came to Fort Myer to demonstrate the Wright Flyer for the US           
Army, Selfridge arranged to be a passenger while Orville piloted the craft. On             
September 17, 1908, the Wright Flyer circled Fort Myer 4½ times at 150 feet (46           
m). Halfway through the fifth circuit, the right propeller broke, losing thrust.           
This set up a vibration, causing the split propeller to hit a guy wire bracing             
the rear vertical rudder. The wire tore out of its fastening and shattered the             
propeller; the rudder swiveled to the horizontal and sent the Flyer into a nose-dive.     
Orville shut off the engine and managed to glide to about 75 feet(23 m), but the           
Flyer hit the ground nose first.                                                           
Orville later described the accident that killed Selfridge in a letter to his             
brother, Wilbur:                                                                           
On the fourth round, everything seemingly working much better and smoother than           
any former flight, I started on a larger circuit with less abrupt turns. It was           
on the very first slow turn that the trouble began. ... A hurried glance behind           
revealed nothing wrong, but I decided to shut off the power and descend as soon           
as the machine could be faced in a direction where a landing could be made. This           
decision was hardly reached, in fact I suppose it was not over two or three               
seconds from the time the first taps were heard, until two big thumps, which               
gave the machine a terrible shaking, showed that something had broken. ... The             
machine suddenly turned to the right and I immediately shut off the power. Quick           
as a flash, the machine turned down in front and started straight for the ground.         
Our course for 50 feet (15 meters) was within a very few degrees of the                   
perpendicular. Lt. Selfridge up to this time had not uttered a word, though he             
took a hasty glance behind when the propeller broke and turned once or twice to           
look into my face, evidently to see what I thought of the situation. But when             
the machine turned head first for the ground, he exclaimed 'Oh! Oh!' in an                 
almost inaudible voice.                                                                   
When the craft hit the ground, both Selfridge and Wright were thrown against the           
remaining wires. Selfridge was thrown against one of the wooden uprights of the           
framework and his skull was fractured. He underwent neurosurgery but died that             
evening without regaining consciousness. He was 26. Orville suffered severe               
injuries, including a broken left thigh, several broken ribs and a damaged hip,           
and was hospitalized for seven weeks. Selfridge when he got on the plane wasn't           
wearing any headgear & Wright was only wearing a cap as two existing photographs           
prove taken before the flight. If Selfridge had been wearing a helmet of some             
sort he most likely would've survived the crash. As a result of Selfridge's               
death the US Army's first pilots wore large heavy headgear reminiscient of early           
football helmets.                                                                         
Thomas Selfridge was buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Section 3, Lot               
2158, Grid QR-13/14.