1913 in Aviation History

In 1912, the local Dayton area and the aviation world was dealt a severe blow when Wilbur Wright became ill on a business trip to Boston and died of Typhoid Fever after returning to Dayton. He was only 45 years old at the time. Many agreed with the words of his father, Milton, as expressed in his diary, “A short life, full of consequences. An unfailing intellect, imperturbable temper, great self-reliance and as great modesty, seeing the right clearly, pursuing it steadfastly, he lived and died.”


Portrait of Wilbur Wright (1867-1912)


Despite the loss of Wilbur Wright’s leadership, the local Dayton region was still a hotbed of aviation development. In 1913, the Wright Company unveiled the 1913 Model E aircraft–the first Wright aircraft to be propelled by a single propeller. It also foreshadowed the important role that automation was going to play in the future of aviation. On 31 December 1913, Orville Wright demonstrated a Model E with an “automatic stabilizer” flying seven circuits around the Huffman Prairie while holding his hands above his head. The Model E demonstrations earned the Wright Brothers the 1913 Collier Trophy from the Aero Club of America. The technology used in the Wright Model E was not competitive with the more advanced Sperry-designed gyroscopic autopilot, but it still pointed the way to the future and ushered in the concerns regarding human-automation interaction that remain with us today.


Wright Model E Flyer in flight over Huffman Prairie with the hangar and a second Model E in the background. It appears to be Orville Wright piloting the Model E.


In other Wright Company developments, Orville Wright worked on developing seaplanes. He actively flew seaplanes on the nearby Great Miami River from 1913 to 1914. This area had three advantages: deep water formed by a hydraulic dam, freedom from man-made obstructions, and a 90 degree bend in the river that allow him to take off and land either north-south or east-west, depending on prevailing winds. In June and July 1913, Orville made more than 100 flights, frequently with passengers, in the Wright Model C-H “hydroplane.”


Orville Wright standing in the Miami River between the pontoons of a Wright Model CH Flyer. Two unidentified men sit in the seats of the Flyer.


In 1913, aviators around the world were seeking to find practical uses for aircraft. One notable success was the first Airmail delivery. In October, Lieutenant Roning delivered a 22 pound sack of mail in Pauillac, France as part of the first official Airmail delivery in France.

On the military side of aviation, 1913 was the year the first aircraft and pilot was shot down in combat. A Russian pilot named de Sackoff was shot down by ground fire while attempting to bomb Fort Bezhani during the First Balkan War. However, after being forced to land his aircraft, he was able to make repairs and then flew back to his base. Meanwhile in the United States as part of the response to tensions along the border with Mexico, President Taft ordered the US Army to move its aircraft to Texas. This group was designated the 1st Aero Squadron and was initially a Provisional Organization. However, in December 1913, the unit was designated as a non-provisional organization and was the first US military unit devoted exclusively to aviation.

Clearly, 1913 was a year of profound development for aviation, with many events that foreshadowed its future!