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Thomas E. Selfridge

Many of the major public events in the city, be it parades or superbowls, involve an aircraft flyover.  Often these craft are flying out of Selfridge Air National Guard base, located in Mt. Clemens.  This base has been a part of the fabric of our community for over ninety years.  Despite its presence here for all these decades, its name has not been changed to that of a local notable; it has remained named a memorial for a man who gave his life in the development of aviation in the United States.

Thomas Etholen Selfridge was born in San Francisco in 1882.  He attended the Army's school, West Point, graduating in 1903,  This pursuit did not leave him blind to others, however.  He was avidly interested in the budding field of aviation, which had been ushered into a new age with the Wright Brothers flight in 1903.  After the Wright Brothers declined his offer to serve as an assistant,  he ended up volunteering his services, with President Theodore Roosevelt's blessing, to Alexander Graham Bell, who was now parlaying his talents into aviation after inventing the telephone.    In this capacity he flew his first powered plane in 1908; this craft was nicknamed "The Whitewing."  Following this and several other flights, the Army attached him to the Signal Corps air unit, where he designed a dirigible for them.  After completing this he was scheduled to demonstrate dirigibles to the public at a state fair; however he was first assigned to be an official witness to Orville Wright's test of a new plane he was trying to sell to the Army.  Selfridge convinced  others to let him go first, and with Wright's approval, rode with him in this craft.  Not long into the flight, problems in new parts being tested out for the first time on this craft caused it to crash.  Wright suffered several broken bones; Selfridge, however, was killed, dying several hours later from his injuries.  He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.  Selfridge was the first person in the world to die from a powered airplane crash.

Selfridge's contribution to the Army's initial foray into powered aviation, and his ultimate sacrifice, by naming this airbase for him in 1917.  Air units from this base have served admirably in military actions ever since, giving honor to this American Aviation pioneer.

Comments

  • Donald Michael Schwartz 3 years ago

    That was an amazing story. Selfridge Air Base is some much a part of the Michigan lexicon that I think we can claim Thomas as our own.

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