WW1 Planes
An encyclopediae of 1914-18 aircraft types


The First American Plane

Wright Military Flyer at Fort Myer
Wright Military Flyer at Fort Myer

The first flight. Worldwide. They did it. The Wright Brothers, two maverick crafty bicycle makers first leaved the ground on an heavier-than-air machine for a few seconds, fighting to find wind with an engine barely strong enough to tilt a wooden screw. That was in 1903. And homologated. But who known how many attempted this before, perhaps centuries ago. Just at the same time, flight claims had been made for Clément Ader, Gustave Whitehead, Richard Pearse, and Karl Jatho or Traian Vuia and Alberto Santos-Dumont*. People already flew on lighter than air balloons for much longer, higher and farther than this, two centuries before. But a balloon was a slave of the wind, a toy of the elements, perhaps the hand of god, an unnatural thing capable of hanging there but not to fly. While planes were the only seemingly true artificial birds. They looked and felt natural. And very promising. These contraptions, for all who went to study and craft these, try these with great enthusiasm, how far they were... from war ? The idea of using these for military applications didn't cut with these pioneers. But that's where the money was -at least when competition and prizes started to fade away.
*And some tried to disqualify their attempt as cheating, using skids, a launching ramp and strong wind, a catapult after 1903.

Wright-Martin Model V
Wright-Martin Model V, last plane of the company. The company Wright-Martin only lived from 1916 to 1919 but the name lived on through engine manufacturing and on the other hand Glenn Martin. One of the reasons of its demise and short live was the ferocious Wright brother's "patent war" with other aircraft manufacturers, the result of US cross-licensing wartime agreement practice.

The Wright Brothers were no different. Once they flew over and over again their famous Flyers I, II and III before officials, taking passengers in the process, each time higher, faster and further away. In 1907 they presented the "model A" the first produced in relatively large quantities (60) and licence-built in Europe. One was flown before French officials, some were sold to Germany. In the US, they gained recognition enough to motivate an order by the Aeronautical Division, U.S. Signal Corps at $25,000 plus $5,000 bonus 1909 apiece. It was still a standard pusher, canard configuration with a 35-horsepower (26 kW) engine and carry two -the pilot and observer- on about 40 miles per hour (64 km/h) on 125 miles (201 km). That was quite an achievement given how fragile the contraption looked. So not only it could be used for reconnaissance but also liaison, carrying military VIPs on site faster than a train, in straight line over any obstacles. From then on, they declined the model B, C and D, and up to the Wright E-Pusher, the last classic model without a proper covered fuselage. They never designed fighters, only observation and training models, but some floatplanes. The last in line of the classic planes was the model E, and it's derivative Model EX, one-seat version also called "baby wright". They were sold to the civilian market. There was no Wright model J, produced instead by Burgess, which acquired the license.

The Model R was essentially a competition plane, the model C a good heavy-duty mass-produced two-seats, two-propeller heavy duty aircraft which was widely produced and tried in bombing and strafing (with the first airborne machine-gun), carrying heavy loads, tried radio transmission and doing long runs missions, but was obsolete in 1914. The Models G, H and K were 1914-1915 prototypes, never ordered by the Army but introducing many advancements like a full bodied fuselage, ailerons and other innovations. The Model L was a conventional "2nd generation plane" difficult to associate with the traditional image of a Wright aircraft. Despite its apparent modernism, it was sluggish and heavy to maneuver, and was tested but never ordered. This was not the last plane of the company which became in 1916 the Wright-Martin Company until 1919. It should be added that the company produced its own engines, like the 1906 Wright 440 Engine (produced until 1912) and the 1911 Wright 660 Engine (until 1916). In 1919 indeed, the company moved to engine manufacturing only, as Wright Aeronautical, and designed the legendary Wright Whirlwind series and this famous name was later associated forever with USAF Aviation history through the ww2 winner Wright-Cyclone.

In 1918, Orville Wright will design the first ever guided bomb, called the Liberty Eagle, while in 1919 he designed the OW.1 Aerial Coupe, a civilian four-place enclosed cabin biplane for the Dayton Wright Airplane Company after the war. It was luxurious, with a roomy and well-furnished room, but also performed well, making an altitude record, but found no customer. This was the very last plane designed by the Wright Brothers.

Prewar models, From the model F to the model G

Indeed, the Model F marked a radical departure, dispensed with blinkers and curtains and using a proper fuselage for the first time. The engine was therefore replaced forward of the wings, and there was now a semi-standard tail with the rudders resting atop the elevator, and hinged it, rather than flexed. Moreover the fuselage was partly covered in aluminum to be nicknamed "Tin Cow", also a radical departure over the previous "wood only" cage-like models. These planes were still that slow that they were flown in regular city suit. There was no such things as a helmet or goggles.
Liberty Eagle
Wright 1918 Liberty Eagle, designed by Orville and Fred Nash. It was a small unmanned biplane from the Dayton Wright Airplane Company called Liberty Eagle and nicknamed "the Bug" designed as a guided missile, using a gyroscopic stabilizer, and the first attempt ever. Several were built and tested in Pensacola, Florida, half damaging their target. src: flyingmachines.ru.

Wright Factory Production

  • Model A (military and civilian) 1909
  • Model B (military and civilian) 1910
  • Model C Heavy-duty and Floatplane (1912)
  • Model R Competition one-seater (1911)
  • Model H/HS 1914 prototypes
  • Model K 1915 Seaplane prototype US Navy
  • Model G 1916 advanced trainer prototype

Wright Military Flyer (1909)

The U.S. Army purchased its first aircraft in August 1909 after a demonstration fitted the specifications emitted by the Signal Corps, called "Specification 486" issued 23 December 1907. A Model A was carried and shown at Fort Myer, Virginia on 20 August 1908. There was a crash on 17 September 1908 killing Lt. Thomas Selfridge as passenger but depite all these ans all the successful tests that went before, the contract was maintained until 1909. The Wright Military Flyer was built with improved features and shipped to Fort Myer on 18 June 1909, showing a shorter wingspan, longer propellers and another gear ratio for the transmission in order to increase top speed, linked to the Army specs. The motor was also "broken in" to produce more horsepower. Tests started on 29 June 1909, with Orville flying. The speed test was performed with Lt. Benjamin D. Foulois on board taking the measure of 42.58 mph over 44 miles which with the Army accepted to pay the Wright company a substantial $25,000 for the Military Flyer with a speed bonus of $5000. It was further tested by the Army at College Park, Maryland, Wilbur training Lt. Frank P. Lahm and Lt. Frederic E. Humphries in October 1909, the first American military pilots. Pitch stability modifications made by Orville would lead to the Model B. Lt. Benjamin Foulois flew it alone in 1910 at Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio Texas and later flew with wheels instead of skids only. A wheeled landing gear was generalized at that time. In October 1911, this model was sent for exhibition at the Smithonian, and still is there today.

Wright Model A (1909)

Blueprint Model A
Blueprint Model A - Credits wright-brothers.com

The Model became the world's first mass-production airplane, large enough to comprise many variants from 1907 to 1909and based on the 1905 Flyer III. Design changes were the length, weight and an improved engine. Crucially these changes allowed a two-seat configuration on the leading edge of the wing. It also had two new control systems with three separate levers for wing warping, elevator, and rudder. Wilbur was not happy with these and later devised a Model A replace the original 3-lever system shown in France and later at Fort Myer with gradual improvements. These changes produced a European variant with a "Wilbur" control system, and "Orville." in the US, which became a purchase option. Whatever the case both featured the same two levers between the seats, for the elevator, warping the wings, tilting the rudder. This system was located such as to allow both pilots to relay or switch control, it was also usable for training.

The Model A was showcased by Orville on 8 Aug 1908 in France and later to Italy (Wilbur) in 1909. Another flown at Governor's Island in New York (October of 1909) as part of the Hudson-Fulton Celebrations, and at Fort Myer in September 1908. Late 1909 and early 1910, the Model A eveolved with new fixed horizontal stabilizers to the tail, a movable elevator and outriggers holding the tail shaped as a rectangular framework while the front elevator/canard disappeared but this at the end of 1910, it was superseded by the Model B. About 7-8 prototypes of this type were therefore manufactured.

Wilbur was teaching the first generation of U.S. military pilots at College Park, Maryland fall 1909, when he attached a horizontal surface ahead of the twin rudders of the Military Flyer while Orville, made about the the same modification while in Germany and this modification went on to resemble the system Curtiss and Farman used. Spring of 1910 in Montgomery, Alabama students flew the "Model AB" which had elevators, front and back. This was a transitional design, "convertible" in a sense, tested extensively by Hoxsey. The brothers would also add wheels to the Model AB, and at the end of 1910 concluded the elevator worked best when placed at the back and the wheels were definitely better than a catapult. It was a forerunner for the Model B showcased at the Belmont Aviation Tournament in New York.
Dimensions: 41 ft (8.5 x 12,3m ) Lenght - wingspan
Weight: 800 lb (362.9 kg) empty
Propulsion: 4 cylinder engine, 31 hp at 1425 rpm, average speed 37 mph (60 kph)

Wright Model B (1910)

First use of a machine gun in flight The "headless Wright" because it lacked the familiar canard of the previous series, the Model B became nevertheless the most refined and successful aircraft of the serie, produced until 1914, four leaving their factory monthly, shipped globally. This model was a compromise between the late Model A, and the AB prototype with rear outriggers extended allowing the rudder and elevator to be placed further from the wing. The wheeltrain was also mixed with skids but performances and reliability, agility was a net improvement over the previous one. Despite its popularity however it did not re-establish The Wrights Brothers technological leadership, the Model B being tail-heavy and prone to stall draggy because of the numerous wires and it became obsolete in 1912. This Model B however turned to be en exceptional record holder, making a large number of "firsts" like air freight, bombing, in-flight radio message, parachute jump, naval launch, aerial weaponry among others.

So this model B was extensively tested by the Army but apparently never went into regular units. One has survived in the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and at the Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.

Model B replica
Burgess Model F replica preserved at Hill Aerospace Museum, Model B license-built variant.

Model B replica
Wright Model B reproduction in Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.

Wright Model R (1910)

The famous "Baby Wright", also called the "Roadster" was a smaller one-place biplane first designed for British sportsman and pilot Alec Ogilvie, especially for the Gordon Bennett air race at Belmont Park, NY. It flow in October 1910, placed third with a top speed of 55 mph (89 kph), while another one Model R was introduced at the 1910 Gordon Bennett air race, propelled by a V-8 engine. This "Baby Grand" was flown by Orville at 70 mph (113 kph) in October 1910 but pilot Walter Brookins had an engine failure during the competition and his plane crashed.

The Wright model EX for "exhibition" was a small and very fast derivative of the 1910 Model R "Baby Wright." The gap between the wings was reduced, shorter wires creating less drag to reach up to 55 mph (89 kph) with a 30 hp engine. Later controls were modified for faster responses and the landing gear also to reduced drag. One of the EX was the "Vin Fiz" created for Cal Rodgers to fly across America, sponsored by Armour Meats which then produced the beverage Vin Fiz. The historical trip started on 17 September 1911 at Sheepshead Bay (Long Island, NY) to land in Pasadena, California on 5 Nov 1911 and it was seen in many exhibitions until 1914, until joining apparently the Smithsonian in 1934. These models were fast but at that time this did not interested the army which was focus on range ad altitude.

Later on, in 1913 the EX was derived into the Model E a version that could be carried and assembled in 12 minutes by a small crew for exhibitions. Its only modification was 7-foot pusher propeller and larger tires plus 32-foot span. Its weight was only about 730 pounds and it was tested for the 4 and 6-cylinder Wright motors. Late 1913 a model flew with an "automatic stabilizer" and won the Collier Trophy of the Aero Club of America.

Model E at Simms near Dayton

Wright Model C (1911)

This was as requested by the Army a "weight-carrying" Model B capable of lifting as much as 450 lbs, climbing at 200 feet per minute with an autonomy of four hours. Its heart was a six-cylinder using carburetors, twin Zeniths for the first time for each set of cylinders, as well as water-cooled heads on the cylinders and optional muffler. This model B only differed externally by the its large vertical rectangular blinkers while the wings a bit shorter and flatter and rudder slightly taller. This was also a true dual control, perfect for training.
Wright Model C near Daytona
A few model C were delivered with the old Wright 4-cylinder. The new engine made these planes however somewhat difficult to handle and several pilots died in crashes (as well as many Curtiss pushers) so much so the army decided to ban pushers in late 1914 in favor of tractor planes only. This showed the way for the Wright brothers for their next iteration. The model D was built in parallel for an Army contract, it was derived from the Model R Roadster but fitted with 6-cylinder 60 hp engine and could fly at 66.9 mph, climb at 525 feet per minute. However tests showed it extreme landing speed and the Army canceled further orders. The model CH also developed in parallel was a floatplane version created in early 1913. It used two twin pontoons under the skid but after trials it was swapped for one single large float/pontoon completed by smaller ones under each wingtip and the tail (so four in all). It was tested but never ordered.

Wright Model C
Wright Model C with skids
Wright Model C Blueprint
Wright Model C
Specifications (Model C)
Dimensions Length 29.8 ft (9.1 m) x 38 ft (11.6 m) wingspan, 440 sq ft (40.8 sq. m) wing area
Weight: Empty 920 lbs (417 kg)
Propulsion: 6 cyl. 50/75 hp @1560 rpm, two contra-rotating props, 8.5 ft, 55 mph (86 kph) average speed

Wright Model G (1913)

Wright Co. chief engineer, Grover Loening, designed a seaplane with a 38-foot span which was 28 feet in length and weighed more than 1,200 pounds. Its fuselage was a 18-foot boat-like hull and an enclosed cockpit, the first ever created by the company. It was a twin-propeller pusher but later models had the engine moved in front, the pilot seated beneath the wings. The 6-60 engine allowed the aircraft to reach 60 mph. Later modifications included dihedral wings, non-flexing elevator above the rudder, and also an optional wheel to better handle the pitch and roll.

Wright Model H & K (1914-15)

Two 1914 prototypes quite similar to the Model F but with a streamlined fuselage better blended with the tail. The HS was a short wingspan version at 9.75 meters or 32 feets, to lower the drag and improved the climb. The H on the other hand could carry more payload, over 1000 lbs (454 kg). Both were the last "pushers" double rudder models of the manufacturer. The Army was never interested. The Wright Model K born in 1915 was a seaplane specially tailored for the needs of the US Navy, as a tractor airplane as required, with both Wright "bent-end" propellers forward and ailerons for the first time. The plane rested on two pontoons, but the Navy declined any order for it.

Wright Model L Blueprint

Wright Model L (1916)

First and last "second generation plane" from the company, the Model L was a single-seat tractor biplane with standard control surfaces which seems familiar to us in its general appearance. The Wright brothers idea was to make it a high speed military reconnaissance aircraft capable of reaching 80 mph (129 kph). Critics would later say that greater speeds could have been achieved if the Brothers would had deleted its oversized tail from the Model K. Its lack of streamlining and general drag made it in the end more sluggish that its competitors and this Model L failed to secure any orders by the military. The few produced were tested only. The Wright Company was acquired afterwards, but Orville Wright was retained as a consultant. In 1916, the brothers acquired the Crane-Simplex Automobile Company and the Glenn L. Martin Aircraft Company which merge to form the Wright-Martin Aircraft Corporation.
Dimensions: 29 ft (8.8 m) wingspan, 24.2 ft (7.4 m) Length, 360 sq ft (33.4 sq. m) wing area
Weight: 850 lbs (386 kg) empty
Propulsion: 6 cyl. engine, 75 hp @1400/1560 rpm, 8 ft propeller, 80 mph (129 kph) top speed

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