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Agile Combat Employment, Multi-Capable Airmen Case Studies: First Lt. Thomas Selfridge

  • Published
  • By by Joseph Gangemi
  • Air Education and Training Command Public Affairs

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas – Air Education and Training Command is reviewing moments of aviation history to reflect the importance of Agile Combat Employment, in addition to the warrior mindset and multi-capability, its Airmen must sustain while preparing for the future fight.

Remembered solely for his ill-fated final flight as a passenger aboard the Wright Military Flyer, Thomas Selfridge held the distinction as the first military Airman to engage in the design, construction, and piloting of an aircraft.

In his aviation journey, Selfridge collaborated with Glenn Curtiss and Alexander Graham Bell within the Aeronautical Experiment Association, serving as a military liaison tasked with keeping Capt. Charles DeForrest Chandler, chief of the Signal Corps, informed of the latest advancements in aviation technology.

Selfridge had initially approached the Wright Brothers before Curtiss, but was met with a firm rejection, as the Wrights were determined to secure the first patent and commercialize their aircraft. Selfridge, a West Point graduate and accomplished engineer, found a more receptive welcome within the Aeronautical Experiment Association group.

Tragically, Selfridge died while aboard the Wright Brothers' two-person aircraft. Ironically, his death was attributed to a lengthened propeller that fractured upon striking a bracing wire during a turn—a modification inadequately tested by the Wrights, ultimately claiming Selfridge's life.

Thomas Selfridge's legacy is a testament to his pioneering spirit in the realm of aviation and his contributions to the early development of aircraft.
"The Air Force's mission is so consequential that we can never afford to have a bad day,” said Gary Boyd, AETC historian. “Every good day depends on the proactive engagement of each Airman, ready to step in when needed.”