Orville was accompanied by Charlie Taylor and Charles Furnas, both mechanics in the employ of the Wrights from Dayton (OH). Orville was getting ready for the first full-scale public performance of a Wright Brothers plane in America . . . and the Flyer that Orville was to take in the air had never before been flown. In the late-afternoon of 3 September 1908, the Flyer was wheeled into place, and Orville was very much on edge; Orville's demeanor before his first public flight was the exact opposite of Wilbur's in France . . . Orville just couldn't hold still.
On 4 September 1908, Orville remained in the air for 4 minutes, circling the parade ground five-and-a-half times under perfect control, covering 3 miles and making a perfect landing. During the days that followed, Orville provided one sensational performance after another, setting/breaking world records. Wilbur had become a Transcontinental Two-Ring Circus in France, but Orville was stealing the show. On 9 September 1908, Orville circled the grounds 57 times, flying for an hour. Then, at 5:30 pm in front of a much larger crowd (mostly from DC), Orville flew for 63 minutes, a new record. On 10 September 1908 with much stiffer winds, Orville surpassed his previous record in the air by several minutes (one of those watching was Gutzon Borglum, who would later carve Mount Rushmore).
Rumors abounded among the crowd that President Theodore Roosevelt would announce that he wanted to fly with Orville. There would be another next to Orville in his two-seat plane, but it wouldn't be TR; instead it was someone that Orville didn't like or trust, Lt. Thomas Selfridge (pictured, age 26). Selfridge had become the U.S. Army's top aviation figure, and after two other officers flew with Orville, a very happy and excited Lt. Selfridge assigned himself to fly next. Orville believed that Selfridge was almost certainly a spy for Alexander Graham Bell, who had founded the competing Aerial Experiment Association; simply put, Orville Wright thought Lt. Thomas Selfridge was a backstabber.
Selfridge weighed 175 pounds, which was more than the previous two officers that had accompanied Orville. Nonetheless, on 17 September 1908 at 5:14 pm, the propellers were started. The Flyer lifted more slowly than usual; for 30 to 50 feet, the Flyer was barely off the ground before it started to creep into the air. Like Herbert Hoover and FDR on Inauguration Day, 4 March 1933, Selfridge (like FDR) talked to Orville in an excited fashion as Orville (like Hoover) stared straight ahead, flying the plane.
The Flyer hit the ground with tremendous force; Orville and Selfridge were pinned under bloodstained wreckage, faces down. Orville was conscious but moaning in pain, while Selfridge was unconscious with blood covering his face. Both were taken to the fort's hospital: Orville was in critical condition with a fractured leg and hip, with four broken ribs, but was expected to live. Selfridge, however, never regained consciousness, and died at 8:10 pm mostly due to a fractured skull - Selfridge became the first fatality in America's aviation history. It was rumored to be possible that Orville's passenger that day was to be none other than President Theodore Roosevelt.
A propeller cracked, and began to vibrate; the vibration tore loose a "stay wire", which wrapped around the propeller's blade, and both the wire and propeller broke. The "stay wire" braced the rear rudder, which explained why Orville could not control the Flyer on its descent.
It was the first time that anything had broke for either Wright Brother during a flight, and the first time either had crashed heading nose-down.
Alexander Graham Bell came to visit Orville, but the doctors wouldn't allow him to do so. Bell and his entourage then went to see Selfridge's casket, which was awaiting burial. On the way, Bell went to the supposedly-guarded shed were the Flyer's wreckage was stored. Charlie Taylor was at lunch, and the guard left behind let Bell and his retinue in the shed, which was against instructions. Bell took measurements of the widths of the wing with a tape measure. Word of this breach of security didn't reach Orville for a week, and he was extremely annoyed, but nothing more came of it . . . Bells' intentions were never made clear.
Orville needed heel padding in his left shoe to equalize his legs. By 14 November 1908, Orville had improved to the point where he started working at the bicycle/airplane shop again. It was in December 1908 that Orville and his sister Katherine announced that they were going to France to join their brother Wilbur.