Modern Aviation’s First Fatality

“Bystanders help extricate the mortally wounded US Army (USA) Lieutenant (LT) Thomas Selfridge from the wreck of the Wright Brothers Flyer after its crash at Fort Myer, Virginia (VA). At right, several men attend the injuries of Orville Wright, who lies on the ground at their feet, 09/17/1908”

Lieutenant Selfridge became the first fatality of powered aviation, succumbing to his injuries shortly after this crash.  The flight had been part of a series of tests by Orville Wright to demonstrate the aircraft’s ability to carry a passenger.


Happy Birthday Thomas Selfridge! (February 8, 1882 – September 17, 1908) 

A first lieutenant in the U.S. Army. He became the first person to die in a crash of a powered airplane when a passenger on a demonstration flight piloted by Orville Wright.

Selfridge designed Red Wing, the Aerial Experiment Association’s first powered aircraft. Red Wing was destroyed in a crash on its second flight on March 17, 1908, and only the engine could be salvaged. On May 19, Selfridge became the first US military officer to pilot a modern aircraft when he took to the air alone in AEA’s newest craft, White Wing.

Selfridge Air National Guard Base, located in Harrison Township, Michigan, is named after him. (Wikipedia)

1. Two photographs on stock paper. Lower photo shows men and automobiles in an open field. Written on photo back: “The beginning of Selfridge Field." 

2. Two photographs on mat board, upper photo shows a group of men in hats and coats standing side by side in an open field, lower photo shows men standing in field to left with the frozen Clinton River and wood frame buildings on right. Written on front of lower photo: "The start of Selfrige Field.” Written on photo back: “Beginning of Selfridge Field, left to right, 2. Harry Hutton, 3. Ray D. Chapin, 7. Eugene Lewis, 10. Howard E. Coffin, 13. Henry B. Joy." 

  • Courtesy of the Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library