On May 25, 1910, the first-ever night-time airplane flight was made at Orville Wright’s flying school near Montgomery, Alabama.
Glinting now and then in the moonlight
Walter Brookins and Archibald Hoxsey piloted the plane, which the Montgomery Advertiser described as “glinting now and then in the moonlight” during flight. The plane in the film above may have been the same plane or one very similar since after the night flight, the plane was taken apart and shipped to Missouri.
Theodore Roosevelt flies with Archibald Hoxsey a few months later
Roosevelt probably flew the same plane or similar
A few months, later while participating in the Missouri State Republican Party’s campaign on October 11, 1910, Theodore Roosevelt was invited to fly in a biplane with Arch Hoxsey as the pilot. It is probably the plane or one very similar to the plane that flew the first night flight in Alabama. It must have taken considerable courage on the part of Theodore Roosevelt to fly when airplane flight was so new.
Accompanied by Herbert S. Hadley, Governor of Missouri (1909-1913) and two men who appear to be Henry W. Kiel, Mayor of St. Louis, and Sheriff Louis Nolte, Theodore Roosevelt arrives in a motorcade at Kinloch aviation field. A man, who appears to be Hoxsey inspects the plane in the film above, then Theodore Roosevelt entered the passenger seat of the biplane.
Seven years since Kitty Hawk
It had been seven years after the Wright Brothers made their successful flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Since then, other inventors had made successful flying machines.
To regain their monopoly over flying machines, the Wright Brothers formed a touring company to conduct flying exhibitions and hopefully promote the sale of their airplanes. They quickly realized they needed to find a place to train pilots for the exhibitions and teach buyers. Wilbur set out in February for the south in search of a suitable climate for spring pilot training. After visiting several cities, someone suggested Montgomery, Alabama due to its mild climate, level ground and average wind velocity that was conducive to flight training.
The “Orville’ control system shown in this Model A at the Wright Flight School in Montgomery, Alabama- Brookins and Hoxsey (photo from The Wright Story)
On February 15, 1910, Wilbur arrived at Union Station Montgomery where he visited several sites. He finally decided on the 100-acre cotton plantation owned by Frank Kohn located 3 miles west of town on the Washington Ferry road because of the level, flat land he needed and the distance from town. Kohn offered him free use of the land for three months while the Montgomery Commercial Club with attorney Fred S. Ball, as president, agreed to clear the land, build a hangar and provided transportation to the field.
Wright Brother flying over Kohn plantation in Montgomery, Alabama
(from Alabama State Archives)
Bi-plane arrives in March
The Wright’s bi-plane arrived by train in Montgomery on March 15 and Charles Taylor, the Wright’s mechanic, students, Walter Brookins, Spencer Crane, and James Davis accompanied him four days later. Students, Archibald Hoxsey and Arthur Welsh soon followed.
After Orville arrived, he added a rear horizontal wing to the plane’s rudder system to increase the plane’s stability at high altitudes. Late in the evening on March 26, Orville made Montgomery’s first engine-powered flight.
Orville and his students at the Wright Flying School in Montgomery, AL in 1910. Most of these young men became exhibition pilots for the Wright Company (photo from The Wright Story)
First recorded night flights in history
Despite several engine problems and cancellations due to high winds that spring, flight training took place at the Montgomery field. However, on May 5, Orville received a telegram from his brother requesting him to close the camp and return to Ohio. Orville put Brookins in charge of the school and made sure Brookins soloed before he left. Brookins was the first and only graduate of the Wright Brothers Montgomery flight training school. Brookins continued training but stiff winds and an accident grounded the airplanes. On the night of May 25, the first flight occurred at about 10:30 pm and several others followed throughout the night. These were the first recorded night flights in history.
When a chain broke the next day, the plane was grounded and the since the school was scheduled to close the next week, the aircraft wasn’t repaired. The Wright Brothers told the students to pack up the plane and ship it to Indianapolis, Indiana for the first exhibition flights. Flight training disappeared until World War I when the Orville Training Site became Maxwell Field. The site eventually became home to Maxwell Air Force Base.
ADDITIONAL NOTE AND CORRECTION: I am Dr. Bob Kane, the senior historian for Air University, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. The narrative as written is a bit misleading. Archibald Hoxey was a flight instructor at the Wright Brothers civilian flying school, which they established–not Hoxsey–in mid-February 1910, the first civilian flying school in the United States, on land that is now a part of Maxwell AFB. The school closed in early May 1910 because of unseasonably high winds and the protracted time it took to get spare parts by train from the Wrights’ workshop in Dayton, OH after only ten weeks of operations and graduating about six pilots. About six months later, on Oct 11, 1910, Hoxsey flew ex-President Theodore Roosevelt (he left office on Mar 4, 1909) in Hoxsey’s Wright flyer Type AB on a flight from Kinloch Filed, St. Louis, Missouri, the first flight by an American President–although not by a sitting President. Unfortunately, Hoxsey died from a plane crash in Los Angeles, CA, on Dec 31, 1910