Even though the Wright Brothers had first flown an airplane on December 17, 1903, they kept their achievement a secret for a number of years, finally revealing to the world that they were indeed the inventors of heavier-than-air sustainable flight.
In fact, outside of a few people in Ohio, USA, few people witnessed or believed reports of airplane flight.
From The Paris, France edition of the New York Herald newspaper, their editor summed up Europe’s opinion of the Wright brothers in an editorial on February 10, 1906:
“The Wrights have flown or they have not flown. They possess a machine or they do not possess one. They are in fact either fliers or liars. It is difficult to fly. It’s easy to say, ‘We have flown.'”
In fact, it wasn’t until May of 1908 that the Wright Brothers incredible veil of secrecy over their flying machine was lost. Their request for secrecy was part in parcel of them trying to sell the airplane as a military asset.
And yet… even by December 11, 1909, as first reported by the weekly Flight Magazine, while many saw the awesomeness of the airplane, it was only just then that one nation thought it might be utilized as a military tool, and set about seriously making it a reality.
In this era, the dirigible and hot-air balloons were still the king of the wide blue yonder.
Here from the December 11, 1909 issue of Flight Magazine is an original report of that action:
French Army And Aeroplanes
That the French government is seriously turning its attention to the development of the airplane for military purposes is shown by the fact that three Henry Farman biplanes, a Wright biplane, and a Bleriot monoplane have actually been ordered, while experiments, at the suggestion of the Minister of War, are to be carried out on two Antoinette monoplanes fitted with machine guns. In addition to these machines, the French War Office is also negotiating for the purchase of a Voisin machine. In each case the purchase contract stipulates that an Engineer officer must be taught to pilot the machine, and when they have been thoroughly trained they in their turn will act as instructors to their fellow officers. With regard to the Wright flyer, the French Army already possesses a fully qualified pilot in Capt. Lucas-Gerardville, who was trained by Wilbur Wright himself, and it is probable that he will be placed in charge of the Military Aviation School as chief instructor. It is reported from Paris that already secret trials have been made with machine guns fitted to airplanes, and so successful have they proved that the military authorities have decided to divert a good deal of their attention from dirigibles and give greater consideration to the heavier-than-air machine.
Pretty darn cool, eh? (I’m Canadian). I have previously written about the Wright Brothers selling their planes in Europe and providing flight instruction – such as what Captain Lucas-Gerardville received. You can read an example of that via a poster, HERE.