The Wright Stuff
May 6, 2016 7:48 PM   Subscribe

Was "a little girl in France" the first child to fly in an airplane?

Explaining to young students last week how "there has never been a kid in space", I began to wonder about the first child to have flown in an airplane. Specifically, who were they, what was their name, and how did they come about that privilege and honor?

Upon researching the matter I discovered this story from Orville and Wilbur Wright's niece, Ivonette Wright-Miller:
"[My sister Leontine] had asked to be the first child to fly in this country. She had heard that Orville had taken up a little girl in France, and she wanted to be the first child in the United States."

And then, according to Ivonette, indeed 13-year old Leontine Wright became the first US child to fly in an airplane:
"Uncle Orv called and said that he would take his three nieces up that afternoon if we'd come out. We were very much excited, and when we got on the trolley, the traction to go out, we just could hardly contain ourselves we were so excited about it. When we got there, we got off at Simm's Station──that was where the flying field was, right in this territory. And when we got off the traction and went across the road, and the hangar was on the other side of the fence and we were sitting there for awhile watching. Uncle Orv was out in the field working on the plane, getting it ready for the flight, or the flights. And when we heard the noise of the engine and the clap of the propellers, we went out to where he was working. My sister climbed into the passenger seat . . . And they had started THE WRIGHT FAMILY REMEMBERS HUFFMAN PRAIRIE 4 the propellers and the engine, and they were going, everything was in readiness, and Uncle Orv gave the word that she should get in, so she climbed in next to him in the passenger seat. And they were off."

That story takes place in 1911.

According to the Wright Brother history, in 1908 Orville (later joined by Wilbur) toured Europe and gave extensive demonstrations of powered flight. But seeing as the Wright Brother's 1908 Model A plane was still exactingly experimental – arranging to fly along with Orville on behalf of the US military, in that flight experimental aircraft pilot Lt Thomas Selfridge became the first person to die in a powered flight airplane crash [here] – it is most unlikely that any child was yet being flown.

However, with the development and advent of Wright Aeroplane's double-seated Model B, airplane flights were at least safe enough for President Theodore Roosevelt to venture a flight in 1910. (Astoundingly to me, there is actual footage of that (frankly jaunty) flight.) So, if the stories and facts mesh, it is likely that first airplane flight of a young child happened sometime in between 1910-1911.

Was that "little girl in France" the first child to fly in an honest-to-goodness aeroplane? And if so, who was she?
posted by Mike Mongo to Travel & Transportation (6 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The Wright's flight logs show that A. Michalopoulo, the 11-year-old nephew of French inventor Léon Bollée, was a passenger on a flight at Le Mans on October 7, 1908. I can't find solid confirmation that he was the first child on a plane, though if the logs are complete it appears that he was. Edith Berg, who flew on the same day, is definitely known as the first woman to fly in an airplane.
posted by gubo at 4:38 AM on May 7, 2016 [10 favorites]

Response by poster: GUBO I [heart] YOU!! That is it. It's fantastic! Michalopoulo is the first child to have ever flown in an airplane! Camp d'Auvours (Le Mans), France, October 7 (or 8, some discrepancy on that point), 1908.
posted by Mike Mongo at 6:41 PM on May 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I tracked down more information about Michalopoulo. He was André Michalopoulos (1897-1982), a Greek politician/diplomat/scholar. Here is his obituary, and this page has an article with a biography that mentions his flight. This appears to be a stubby article about him in the Greek wikipedia.
posted by gubo at 4:50 AM on May 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: gubo, bravo! You have bested me again! Based on the clue you provided, I found him as well–by back dating his age from the time of the flight. Here is his death record. But you have him completely ID'd. Aces!
posted by Mike Mongo at 7:09 PM on May 8, 2016

Response by poster: gudo, I also located this record which had him listed as "Grèce/France". This helped identify him as André as well. Though the Michalopoulo/Michalopoulo twist made it less easy, for certain.

However, this confirming mention in Automotor Journal made my night.
posted by Mike Mongo at 7:28 PM on May 8, 2016

Wow! This is worthy of an FPP. Fascinating. Footage of Colonel Roosevelt is awesome. Didn't know the Wright brothers had another brother, Lorin.

Thanks for asking the question. I bet your students love your curiosity.
posted by AugustWest at 9:21 PM on July 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

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