The first flying school and its location in Montgomery Alabama, is perhaps one of the least little known facts about this historic state.
While it was a short lived operation, it would eventually evolve into one of the most important military bases not only for the state, but the country; Maxwell Air Force Base.
It was the idea and dreams of the most important aviation pioneers of the time, Wilbur and Orville Wright, who were just seven years from the historic first flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.
They held a very strong monopoly on the emerging flying market in the early 1900’s, but were being pressed very hard by several other inventors of flying machines, and desperately wanted to control this emerging market.
In their minds and in the trend of the times, the best way to do that was to train pilots in their growing flying exhibition business in order help promote the sale of their airplanes.
The history of the first flying school in Montgomery, Alabama, all took place in the spring of 1910.
The famous Wright brothers, who were from Dayton Ohio, were seven years from their original flight that made history around the world, and were looking to grow their budding new business.
They were desperately trying to retain their share of the exploding new aviation market, and they had just recently formed a touring company that was conducting flying exhibitions.
These flying exhibitions had just one goal in mind; to sale airplanes.
However, in order for them to be successful, they knew they had to do something that no one else was doing at the time; teach potential buyers how to fly these airplanes.
Living in Dayton Ohio where they were raised, they had a very short window to fly because of the unfavorable winters there, so they set out to explore other options.
Wilbur was selected to start the search, and he left Dayton on February 11th of 1910, to look for a place where they could begin their training for the first flying school in the spring of that year.
His search took him to several cities in the south but none of them looked suitable, so he headed for Jacksonville Florida.
However, that stop did not pan out either, but a local from the area suggested that he try Montgomery Alabama, for a couple of key reasons.
The first was that the area had very mild weather as well as something that was critical for the first flying school; “flat farmland.”
Four days after he had set out, February 15th, he arrived in Montgomery and looked at several different locations.
However, none seemed to fit the picture until he arrived at the Frank Kohn plantation the following day, where he found the fit he was looking for.
This site would be perfect for the brothers to start the first flying school, as it had several very distinct advantages over other sites he had looked at.
First, there was plenty of flat land, and second it was located far enough from the city of Montgomery that it would provide them both some seclusion and secrecy.
However, there were other major incentives for the brothers as well.
Mr. Kohn offered him free use of the land for three months, and the Montgomery Commercial Club offered him three other huge incentives.
They would clear that land for the brothers, they would build them a hanger, and they would help to provide transportation to and from the field.
However, before he made the final decision, he checked in with the local weather bureau.
There, he found exactly the weather history he had been hoping for as two key elements stood out.
The area had nearly one-half the rainfall during the spring the other areas had, but more important, the average wind speed was ideal for flight training.
Because of all of these favorable factors, Montgomery Alabama was chosen by Wilbur as the site for the first flying school in the country.
He then left to return back to Dayton Ohio that same evening, where he and Orville finalized the arrangements to start the school and ship their plane to Montgomery.
The Wright brother’s plane, which was packed in several large crates, was shipped by train and arrived in the city of Montgomery on March 15th, 1910.
The Wright Brothers longtime friend and their mechanic, Charles Taylor, arrived in Alabama just four days later, along with their first two students.
These two students were Walter Brookins and James Davis, and a few days later Orville arrived with a third student, Spencer Crane.
However, there were to be more students, as Archibald Hoxsey and Ashur West would also make their way to Montgomery.
To begin the first flying school, Orville made an adjustment to their airplane.
He added a rear horizontal wing to the rudder system, which added much needed stability at high altitudes.
This was the first major change to their aircraft since their historic Kitty Hawk flight, and training was about to begin.
On March 26, Orville made the first engine powered flight, and on March 28th, training commenced.
However, it did not go as planned, as their plane had numerous engine problems that caused both emergency landings as well as cancellations.
Orville discovered that the engine they were using had major internal problems, and they had to order parts from their home town of Dayton.
Further training was delayed until April 1st, but things still did not go as planned, as Orville made the decision that their engine needed to be totally over-hauled.
He sent it back to Dayton again, and once it came back repaired, training at the first flying school resumed.
The training was centered around instructions on how to manipulate the engine, how to judge wind currents, how to balance the aircraft, how to turn it, as well as it’s decent and ascent.
For the next several days things went very well, except for the occasional high winds that made the training very difficult.
One of the students, Walter Brookins, was making a lot of progress and getting close to completing the classes, when Wilbur sent a telegram to Orville to abruptly close the school altogether.
He wanted him to immediately return to Ohio in order to resume their exhibition tours, so Orville finished rushing Walter through the classes.
The next day, Walter flew solo for about 12 minutes, making him the first and only graduate of the first flying school.
On May 5th, 1910, Orville left to return to Dayton, and took two of the students with him, Mr. Welsh and Mr. Davis.
However, Walter Brookins stayed at the school and he continued to train the remaining two students, Mr. Hoxsey and Mr. Crane.
But things did not go as planned as there was an accident the grounded the aircraft for several days, as well as strong winds that slowed further training.
Then, un-expectantly, a propeller chain broke grounding the plane yet again, and the Wright brothers made the decision not to fix the aircraft any further.
They instead told the remaining students to pack the plane up and ship it to Indianapolis Indiana, where they were going to start their flight exhibitions.
After the students left the first flying school for good, flying of any kind left Alabama altogether until World War I broke out.
Once this occurred,
aviation returned to this historic Montgomery site, where later it would become
Maxell Air Force Base.
Maxwell Air Force Base, officially known today as Maxwell-Gunter Air Force base, is a United States Air Force installation under the Air Education and Training Command.
It is located on the original site of the first flying school that was set up and briefly operated by the Wright Brothers.
Today the base is the headquarters of what is referred to as Air University, a major component of Air Education and Training Compound.
It is also the U.S Air Force’s center for Joint Professional Military Education, and is one of the major employers for the City of Montgomery today.
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