The year was 1910 and competition was heating up in terms of flying machines so the monopoly the Wright Brothers held after their success at Kitty Hawk, South Carolina was being challenged.
At the time, there were less than 10 fully qualified pilots in the world. The brothers therefore decided they would need to open a civilian flying school so they could train pilots and not lose their market share. They had wanted to tour the country showing and selling their aircraft but they needed pilots who could fly their aircraft in those exhibitions and then teach their customers how to fly the planes they bought.Wilbur therefore scoured the country, looking for a suitable training school location.
After searching fruitlessly, he was advised to check out Montgomery for its mild climate, less-than-average rainfall and desirable wind velocity that would help with such training.And so it was that an old cotton plantation became an aviation flying school. It was found here just outside Montgomery, Alabama.
The owner, Frank Kohn, offered the brothers free use of his land for three months. But alas, even with this, the world’s earliest flying school was not to be successful.
In the end, inclement weather and mechanical issues forced the flying school to close.
(Fittingly, however, the area was later used to repair faulty aircraft during the First World War years and on November 8, 1922 the location became the Maxwell Field Air Force Training Base.
These days the former cotton plantation houses the prestigious Air University.)When the school first opened, however, a biplane was sent by train in seven large crates to arrive at the former plantation.
A new rudder system was soon added and this gave better stability to the plane at high altitudes, and with that, Montgomery’s had its first engine-powered flight.
This modification of the rudder was actually the first major change made to the Wright aircraft since its famous first flight seven years earlier. This modification also meant that the new plane could perform much better and on one flight it got as high as 50 feet and was able to reach a speed of 40 miles/hour.
Quite amazing for its time.
But, alas, between never-ending engine problems and bad weather, training became difficult and only one graduate, Walter Brookins, ever completed the course.
One success, however, was that the first recorded night flights were carried out here.
With training not going as well as was planned, the Wright Brothers had the plane packed up and shipped to Indianapolis, Indiana for their first exhibition flights.
All this meant thatflying activities pretty much disappeared in Alabama until World War I brought aviation back to the site and it later became Maxwell Field.
Though not able to successfully host a flying school, Montgomery, Alabama certainly goes down in history as one of the places that helped aviation to “take off.”