Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


IT WAS four years before the earliest pilots of heavier-than-air craft invited anyone else aboard—more properly, atop—their flying contraptions. Once passengers tried it, a good number took up flying on their own. Alas, some perished.

The qualifier “heavier-than-air” is needed because balloons and, later, dirigibles had already carried passengers. Even the Montgolfiers’ hot air balloons had done so in 1783.

For the heavier-than-air variety, a great deal happened in a single year, 1908. It’s generally accepted that the first pilot to take another person aloft was Frenchman Henri Farman. Sculptor Léon Delagrange joined Farman in a flight from a meadow outside Paris on March 29, 1908.


Ferdinand Léon Delagrange, 1873 – 1910, French sculptor, pioneer aviator, with commendations from both the Salon des Artistes Français and the Aéro-Club de France. He is likely the world’s first airplane passenger.

Delagrange was so enamored with the flying experience that he was one of the first to order an aircraft built by another. He held Aéro-Club de France Certificate No. 3 (after Louis Blériot, No. 1, and Glenn Curtiss, No. 2).

Delagrange may also be credited with taking the first woman aloft.


Delagrange and Mme. Thérésa Peltier, possibly the first woman to fly.

On July 8, 1908, Mme. Thérésa Peltier, also a French sculptor, accepted Delagrange’s invitation while he was in Turin, Italy, on an exhibition tour. By September 1908, Peltier soloed. However, when Delagrange died in an airplane accident on January 4, 1910, Peltier gave up aviation.

(Other sources say that Henri Farman took Mlle. P. Van Pottelsberghe for a flight in Ghent, Belgium, in late May 1908.)

The first fatality in a powered heavier-than-air craft occurred on September 17, 1908, at Fort Myer, Virginia, adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery, near Washington, D.C.


The wreck of Orville Wright’s Flyer, which took the life of passenger Thomas E. Selfridge at Fort Myer, Virginia, September 17, 1908.

U.S. Army First Lieutenant Thomas E. Selfridge perished as a result of a crash of Orville Wright’s Flyer.  The aircraft had a propeller failure that destroyed one of its rudders and sent it into a dive.

In the summer of 1908, Wilbur Wright demonstrated the Flyer to Europeans. See “Wilbur Wows ’Em at Le Mans,” Just south of Le Mans, about 130 miles southwest of Paris, Wright took a French journalist for a flight. There’s film footage of the event (though it’s mistitled as a world’s first passenger flight, rather than a Wright first):

Later, on October 7, 1908, Mrs. Hart O. Berg, wife of the Wrights’ European agent, became the first American woman to fly.


Edith (Mrs. Hart O.) Berg prepares for her flight with Wilber Wright; Auvours, France, near Le Mans, October 7, 1908. Note her prototype Hobble Skirt. Image from the National Air and Space Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution.

To keep her skirt from billowing, Berg tied its hem at the ankles. It’s said this inspired the Hobble Skirt fashion.

During Wright Flyer demonstrations at Pau, in the southeast of France, England’s King Edward VII, Italy’s Dowager Queen Margherita and Spain’s King Alfonso XIII witnessed flights. None actually flew, however.


King Alfonso XIII of Spain, an avowed sportsman, in the light suit, avails himself of a great photo op; Pau, France, 1908. See “The Hispano-Suiza Alfonso XIII,”, for the king’s influence on motoring.

Before long, everybody—and seemingly, everything—got into the act. At the Brescia, Italy, air show in 1909 Glenn Curtiss gave a famed Italian a flight. See “Gabriele d’Annunzio: Poet, Patriot—Flyguy,”; and also “Franz Kafka and the Brescia Air Show,

On November 4, 1908, an old adage was disproved by Briton Claude Moore-Brabazon (later Lord Brabazon of Tara; see “Bristol Brabazon,


J.T.C. Moore-Brabazon took his porcine pal for a 3.7-mile flight in his Voisin biplane.

Indeed, pigs could fly.

And so could cats. On August 17, 1910, American aviator John Bevins Moisant took his mechanic Albert Fileux—and his cat Mademoiselle Fifi—in his Blériot XI on a flight across the English Channel.


John Bevins Moisant and Mademoiselle Fifi, one of his cross-channel passengers in 1910.

This was only a year after Louis Blériot’s epic conquest of the same body of water in a similar aircraft.

What glorious times they were. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2015

One comment on “HOLD ON TIGHT!

  1. Victor Ceicys
    January 28, 2015

    Did the pig put on lipstick before the flight?

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