Orville’s Aviators: Outstanding Alumni of the Wright Flying School, 1910-1916
by John Carver Edwards, McFarland & Company, London, 2009, $45.
While $45 may seem like a lot to the average reader for a slim, specialized book, anyone interested in the early era of flight will be pleased with this volume. John Edwards deals with subject matter that has received scant attention, relating the story of six fascinating characters who trained at the famous Wright flying school in Dayton. Each of the six people he selects—Arthur L. Welsh, Howard Gill, Arch Freeman, Grover Bergdoll, George Gray and Howard Rinehart—merits his own book.
In the course of his revealing biographies, Edwards also tells the story of the Wright brothers in their post–Kitty Hawk days. Al – ways concerned about their patents, the Wrights were reluctant to admit any fault whatsoever with their aircraft, even in the face of an appalling accident rate. The Wright system of flying instruction, despite a crude at – tempt at a simulator and the active advice of Orville himself, was brief and primitive. Every student was put at risk from the first lesson until long after the last one. The Wrights never recognized that their training with gliders had given them an immense ad – vantage, and that without that conditioning the average student could learn precious little during a short stay at their school.
Of the six characters profiled, two stand out. One is Grover Bergdoll, who would become nationally famous as a “draft dodger” during World War I. He apparently acted like a rock star spaced out on drugs much of the time, and how he managed to survive until age 72 is a mystery. But he never had an accident while flying—perhaps the only thing that can be said to his credit.
The second intriguing student is Howard Rinehart, who became an instructor at the Wright school and later served as a test pilot for the Dayton Wright Corporation, wringing out the de Havilland D.H.4 for American production using the Liberty engine. Rinehart too led an adventurous life, but drank far too much and eventually committed suicide.
My suggestion to anyone considering buying Orville’s Aviators is to read the chapters on Bergdoll or Rinehart. If you like them, you’ll love the rest of the book, and it will be money well spent.
Originally published in the May 2010 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.