First Airplane Flies

First Airplane Flies

Near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, Orville and Wilbur Wright make the first successful flight in history of a self-propelled, heavier-than-air aircraft. Orville piloted the gasoline-powered, propeller-driven biplane, which stayed aloft for 12 seconds and covered 120 feet on its inaugural flight.

Orville and Wilbur Wright grew up in Dayton, Ohio, and developed an interest in aviation after learning of the glider flights of the German engineer Otto Lilienthal in the 1890s. Unlike their older brothers, Orville and Wilbur did not attend college, but they possessed extraordinary technical ability and a sophisticated approach to solving problems in mechanical design. They built printing presses and in 1892 opened a bicycle sales and repair shop. Soon, they were building their own bicycles, and this experience, combined with profits from their various businesses, allowed them to pursue actively their dream of building the world’s first airplane.

READ MORE: 10 Things You May Not Know About the Wright Brothers

After exhaustively researching other engineers’ efforts to build a heavier-than-air, controlled aircraft, the Wright brothers wrote the U.S. Weather Bureau inquiring about a suitable place to conduct glider tests. They settled on Kitty Hawk, an isolated village on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, which offered steady winds and sand dunes from which to glide and land softly. Their first glider, tested in 1900, performed poorly, but a new design, tested in 1901, was more successful. Later that year, they built a wind tunnel where they tested nearly 200 wings and airframes of different shapes and designs. The brothers’ systematic experimentations paid off–they flew hundreds of successful flights in their 1902 glider at Kill Devils Hills near Kitty Hawk. Their biplane glider featured a steering system, based on a movable rudder, that solved the problem of controlled flight. They were now ready for powered flight.

In Dayton, they designed a 12-horsepower internal combustion engine with the assistance of machinist Charles Taylor and built a new aircraft to house it. They transported their aircraft in pieces to Kitty Hawk in the autumn of 1903, assembled it, made a few further tests, and on December 14 Orville made the first attempt at powered flight. The engine stalled during take-off and the plane was damaged, and they spent three days repairing it. Then at 10:35 a.m. on December 17, in front of five witnesses, the aircraft ran down a monorail track and into the air, staying aloft for 12 seconds and flying 120 feet. The modern aviation age was born. Three more tests were made that day, with Wilbur and Orville alternately flying the airplane. Wilbur flew the last flight, covering 852 feet in 59 seconds.

During the next few years, the Wright brothers further developed their airplanes but kept a low profile about their successes in order to secure patents and contracts for their flying machines. By 1905, their aircraft could perform complex maneuvers and remain aloft for up to 39 minutes at a time. In 1908, they traveled to France and made their first public flights, arousing widespread public excitement. In 1909, the U.S. Army’s Signal Corps purchased a specially constructed plane, and the brothers founded the Wright Company to build and market their aircraft. Wilbur Wright died of typhoid fever in 1912; Orville lived until 1948.

The historic Wright brothers’ aircraft of 1903 is on permanent display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

READ MORE: 6 Little-Known Pioneers of Aviation

Flight Stories

“The war-time aviator gets a lot of thrills, risks his neck innumerable times, and — if he comes out of it alive — has a lot of very exciting stories to tell the folks back home. But if he happens, in addition, to be a soldier of fortune, fighting in a plane instead of on the ground — And if, on top of that, he’s in the service of a Latin-American country where nobody knows much of anything about aviation — And if all the aviators on the ‘enemy’ side are his buddies, boon companions in many a carefree revel….”

So began a news article in the Sunday Morning Star on June 10, 1934, referring to the quandary brought upon Dean Ivan Lamb, an American pilot who found himself in the world’s first aerial combat, which took place during the Mexican Revolution, that pitted him against his good friend, Phil Rader, another American pilot and soldier of fortune who was taking his salary from the other side.

Reputed portrait of Dean Ivan Lamb, while in Peru, having been supposedly accorded the rank of General by the Peruvian Government in 1928. Source: Brooklyn Daily Eagle, New York

A Bizarre Twist

Dean Ivan Lamb had sought nothing more than adventure after he learned to fly in May 1912 at the Curtiss Flying School in Hammondsport, New York. There is no evidence that he ever received his certificate, but nonetheless, he traveled to Naca, Arizona, in the early years of the Mexican Revolution. Soon he learned that the adjacent Mexican town was held by the Carranzistas (Francisco Madero’s camp) which was besieged by General Victoriano Huerta’s forces. When the Carranzista’s own commander, General Benjamin G. Hill, learned Lamb could fly, he hired him and purchased a Curtiss D Pusher, which was shipped down from New York State.

A Curtiss company photo of the students attending the New York flight school in May 1912 — as such, one of those pictured may well be Dean Ivan Lamb.

Once in the employ of Gen. Hill, Lamb learned that his good friend and fellow aviator, Phil Rader, a former San Francisco newspaper writer, had likewise taken a job with Gen. Huerta, in the opposing camp and was flying a Cristofferson Pusher. In an era where aviators did not attack one another — indeed, aerial combat had yet to be “invented” — this did not seem a problem and both men were happy to accept payment to work with the Mexicans.

However, in late November of 1913, Gen. Huerta ordered Rader to drop bombs on the Carranzistas. His missions soon became a repeated affair that were flown above the range of his forces’ rifle fire. Predictably Gen. Hill ordered that Dean Lamb use his pistol to shoot the other man if he encountered him while aloft. It wasn’t long before Phil Rader’s plane reappeared to drop more bombs.

A Curtiss Model D Pusher, of the type that Dean Ivan Lamb supposed flew in Mexico. Notably, Lamb almost undoubtedly did train in this very airplane in New York in 1912. Photo Credit: Curtiss

An Aerial Combat (of Sorts)

On November 30, 1913, the fateful day finally arrived when both men spotted one another aloft. Years later in his book, “The Incurable Filibuster”, Lamb wrote of the encounter:

“Early one morning, while making a reconnaissance, I saw the enemy plane and edged over in its direction. As I neared the machine close enough to note details, the pilot pushed up his goggles. Sure enough, it was Phil Rader. He seemed to recognize me, and while trying to edge a bit closer we nearly locked wings. He quickly sheered off, shaking his fist at me, and then straightened out, flying parallel.”

Lamb had made history — though he hardly considered it. It was the first time one airplane had intercepted another during a conflict. But what to do now that they were close? They could fly alongside one another, but Lamb could not talk to, let alone convince the other man not to throw his few small hand bombs. His orders too were to fire on the other man with his pistol. From such close range, it was not only possible to not only hit the other man’s machine but even shoot to kill him. Lamb considered this and rejected the idea. Yet a pistol would be drawn — it just wasn’t Lamb who drew first, as he wrote later:

“[Rader] then drew a pistol and fired downward below my machine. For a second my heart stopped beating as I drew my own gun, but before starting action it occurred to me that he had not actually aimed at me, but beneath. Following his example, I fired twice, and as he suddenly tilted his plane my heart jumped into my throat, thinking that by accident he had been hit. He straightened out again and copied my example by firing two shots. We then fired spaced shots until our guns were empty at about the same time.”

A Christofferson Pusher, the type that Phil Rader would have flown.

At that, the two men flew apart in a broad circle while they both reloaded. Their combat would be believable only if they returned without ammunition — and who among the Mexicans could gauge how hard it might be for one pilot to shoot another while in the air? Somehow, despite the challenges of maintaining control and reloading, they both managed. Once again, they flew close to one another, aware that on the ground, the two armies were watching their aerial duel high above, where one man would shoot and the other would fly away, only to return to exchange fire from the other side.

Again, they exhausted their ammunition. Again, they reloaded. This “fight” continued until finally both men were completely out of ammunition. With that, they waved at one another and flew their separate ways. Back on the ground, both pilots were celebrated as aerial heroes, having faced death in a drawn out duel with another man in the skies.

Over the following weeks, even if the two men could have encountered each other again, Lamb’s plane — purchased cheaply — was not in good enough condition to continue its reconnaissance flights. When Gen. Hill’s payments subsequently were inexplicably “delayed”, Lamb suspected that he wouldn’t be paid after all. Thus, he quietly slipped away and left the services of the Carranzistas to head back north to the United States. As for Phil Rader, he stayed for a while longer before also departing.

Lt. Col. Dean Ivan Lamb, USAF, c.1952

The story seems perfectly in line with the affairs of those times and makes for a wonderful tale. There is, however, just one problem — the “First Dogfight” may well have been a complete fabrication on the part of Lamb, since no other records seem to support the story one way or another. Further, Mexican records do show the acquisition of both planes on each of the sides until 1914. Yet before one dismisses Lamb as just another spinner of tall tales who wrote his tales in the 1930s to a willing audience, it is worth considering that two years later he joined the Royal Flying Corps. Some say he shot down at least five and perhaps even eight German aircraft during World War I. Later, he joined the USAAF and participated in World War II. He retired from the USAF in the 1950s as a Lieutenant Colonel — and thus, with more than enough real stories to have told along the way. Or did he?

One More Bit of Aviation History

In a weird repeat of this farce, after World War I, Lamb wrote that he again offered his mercenary services as a pilot and commander, this time in Paraguay. He commanded the Federales squadron with 11 airplanes and soon found his friend, an Italian pilot named Mazzolini, had signed on to command the revolutionaries. The two got together in Argentina and together interviewed pilots in Buenas Aires. Lamb hired more as the revolutionaries only had six planes. Together, both squadrons took a train to Paraguay, drinking champagne and laughing about their upcoming “war”.

As had happened in Mexico, the Paraguayans knew nothing of aviation and aerial combat — yet they demanded to see results, having read about aerial combat over the Western Front. Lamb and Mazzoli soon put on the show demanded, with one Federales pilot chasing a Revolutionary over the aerodrome, shooting his machine guns. Soon, the Revolutionary plane fell in a spin and disappeared into the distance behind a hill. When the Federales pilot landed, he was greeted with a case of champagne, which the squadron consumed willingly.

“From that day,” Lamb later wrote, “it was tacitly understood that when flying over enemy territory we, likewise, were to be always defeated…. Each time a machine fell the old colonel opened a case of champagne in honor of the occasion and made a long official report. I was shot down five times in the same manner when well away from the aerodrome, and in turn shot down seven of my friends. The colonel never seemed to grow suspicious of the numerous victories we piled up, and a case of champagne was always forthcoming.” He added, “Some real ground strafing, bombing and reconnaissance was done, incidentally.”

Of course, this too could be just another fabrication of Dean Ivan Lamb, all the more so in that the (rather spotty) records of that war include no record of him in Paraguay either.

And then there is this — from 1919, a write-up by Dean Ivan Lamb himself of one of his supposed wartime exploits from the Great War along the Western Front:

Today’s Aviation Trivia Question

Whatever happened to Phil Rader after his war in Mexico? (Or was there even a Phil Rader?)

On July 25, 1920, Seattle aviator Herbert A. Munter (1895-1970) flies his Boeing BB-L6 (Model 8) biplane over the summit of Mount Rainier. The flight is the first one in history to overfly the peak and its 14,410-foot elevation above sea level. The success of the flight is a culmination of Munter's efforts as one of Seattle's early pilots and receives notable attention in the local press as a highlight of the young aviator's career.

A New Aircraft for New Horizons

Munter was a showman, even since his first short flight made from Duwamish Island (now Harbor Island), on Elliott Bay near his parent's home, where he had flown his first homemade "box-kite" aircraft (so called for its lightweight material construction of wood, basket wire, and sewn fabric) in 1912 (Widrig). Primarily an exhibition flier, he had survived at least two airplane crashes since then, including one in a seaplane owned by the Aero Club of the Northwest, into Lake Union on February 19, 1916.

His work as the first test pilot for William Boeing (1881-1956) and the Pacific Aero Products Co. (later renamed the Boeing Airplane Company) led to the development and initial trial flights of Boeing's first airplane at Lake Union, the B&W seaplane, on June 15, 1916.

Following the end of World War I, Munter left Boeing and continued his own business of exhibition and passenger flights, with his Aerial Tours Company. His aircraft operated out of a landing field made from a converted farm pasture in Kent, Washington, later called Munter Airfield, after its founder. Using his connections to Boeing and the Aero Club Northwest (of which he was a founding member in 1915) Munter had a new aircraft made to special order from the Boeing Airplane Company: the BB-L6 (Model 8) biplane. The new aircraft first flew on May 24, 1920, with a design that included a 200-horsepower Hall-Scott L-6 "pusher" engine and a three-seat open cockpit, with space for two passengers to ride side-by-side. The pilot rode in a single rear cockpit, behind the passengers.

The aircraft was based upon an earlier aircraft, the Boeing B-1 (Model 6) developed by the Boeing Airplane Company in 1919, as the first commercial aircraft entirely designed and produced by the company. Like its predecessor, the BB-L6 boasted an all-wood construction and same wing design, with a span of 44 feet, 9 inches, and a range of 450 miles. It was an ideal aircraft for Munter's plans to turn his one-man aerial show into a business geared more toward taking people aloft for the thrill of flying.

Munter not only loved to fly, he also looked to challenge himself, whether this meant trying to set a new altitude record (he established two records, on September 29, 1914, and November 5, 1915) or testing untried aircraft for the first time, to help improve upon their design (such as the Model C seaplane in November 1916 for Boeing). Equipped with a new aircraft for his own aerial tours business, Munter turned toward the Cascade Range and its high peaks as his new challenge as the summer of 1920 approached.

Unsubstantiated claims had been made by fliers for the U.S. Army that the trans-Cascade flight had already been accomplished in 1919 (Spitzer, 73). Munter's own record of aerial achievements in his day was often afforded little mention as newsworthy, with a public perception that the new science of aircraft flight, or lighter-than-air travel, was an entertainment for those on the ground, and nothing more. This gradually changed as fliers sought recognition not only at the national and international level, but with local fliers and clubs in the Northwest. Munter was counted among these. His plan involved an extended flight using the new Boeing aircraft to crisscross the state, and in the process, the Cascades.

First of Two Pioneering Flights

On June 19, 1920, Munter successfully piloted his BB-L6 biplane from his airfield in Kent to Eastern Washington and Idaho, accompanied by his brother, Archie, and a second passenger, Fred W. Strang (1861-1943), representing the Seattle Chamber of Commerce. The journey took the trio back from Walla Walla through southern Washington, following the Columbia River to Portland, Oregon, and back up north to Seattle. Archie served as an aerial photographer and captured multiple views of peaks the aircraft passed along the way. Among these, Mount Rainier and Mount Hood were photographed from an altitude of 10,000 feet, with reproductions of the photos appearing one week later in The Seattle Times. These views were among the first aerial photographs made of the Cascade mountains.

Mount Rainier Viewed From Above

Emboldened by the success of the trans-Cascade flight, Munter next looked to Mount Rainier to circle with his aircraft and to also fly over the summit. A month later, on July 15, reporters interviewed the flier at his Kent airfield as he prepared for the flyover that day. Accompanying him once more would be Archie, and a Selznick News motion picture cameraman, Charles Perryman. The choice of another for the photography was deliberate, as Archie had admitted after the June 19 flight that he "'never snapped a kodak [camera]' . until about six months ago, and that he merely 'saw interesting things and squeezed the bulb'" ("Hidden Beauties . "). By Munter's estimate, the peak would be reached in about 90 minutes of flight time.

However, the July 15 flight was postponed, with Munter's next attempt made 10 days later, on July 25. This time, he achieved the first aerial flyover on record for Mount Rainier, circling the peak three time before crossing over the summit's 14,410-foot elevation. George Maxey (1898-1977), a reporter with The Seattle Times, accompanied him and captured a stunning photograph of the mountain, shown rising up through moderate cloud cover from an altitude of 16,000-feet. The flight lasted two and a half hours.

The photograph of Mount Rainier captured that day appeared in the following day's edition of The Seattle Times, and in a testimony to the feat on a national scale, was accompanied by the caption "Gazing Down on the top of the United States" ("How Summit of Mighty . "). This view of the mountain would become an icon associated with the identity of the Boeing Airplane Company in the decades that followed.

After his historic flight, Munter continued his Aerial Tours Company, until a hangar fire in 1923 at the Kent airfield destroyed his BB-L6 aircraft and other company assets. Munter continued his aviation and other ventures in the years that followed, including flying the mail run between Seattle and Victoria, managing his own automobile business, racing speedboats, and founding his own aviation transport company for service between Seattle and Ketchikan, Alaska.

Seattle Office of Arts & Culture
King County

Herbert Munter in homebuilt airplane, Seattle, ca. 1915

Courtesy MOHAI (1983.10.10128)

BB-L6 (Model 8)

Courtesy Vintage Aircraft Association (Boeing photograph P-271)

George Maxey's Mt. Rainier photo from Herbert Munter's plane, The Seattle Times, July 25, 1920

BB-L6 (Model 8) Technical Data

Courtesy Vintage Aircraft Association

Herbert Munter in plane purchased for his Aerial Tours Company, The Seattle Times, February 8, 1920, p. 2


The term aviation, noun of action from stem of Latin avis "bird" with suffix -ation meaning action or progress, was coined in 1863 by French pioneer Guillaume Joseph Gabriel de La Landelle (1812–1886) in "Aviation ou Navigation aérienne sans ballons". [3] [4]

Tower jumping Edit

Since antiquity, there have been stories of men strapping birdlike wings, stiffened cloaks or other devices to themselves and attempting to fly, typically by jumping off a tower. The Greek legend of Daedalus and Icarus is one of the earliest known [5] others originated from ancient Asia [6] and the European Middle Age. During this early period, the issues of lift, stability and control were not understood, and most attempts ended in serious injury or death.

The Andalusian scientist Abbas ibn Firnas (810–887 AD) is claimed to have made a jump in Córdoba, Spain, covering his body with vulture feathers and attaching two wings to his arms. [7] [8] The 17th-century Algerian historian Ahmed Mohammed al-Maqqari, quoting a poem by Muhammad I of Córdoba's 9th-century court poet Mu'min ibn Said, recounts that Firnas flew some distance before landing with some injuries, attributed to his lacking a tail (as birds use to land). [7] [9] Writing in the 12th century, William of Malmesbury stated that the 11th-century Benedictine monk Eilmer of Malmesbury attached wings to his hands and feet and flew a short distance, [7] but broke both legs while landing, also having neglected to make himself a tail. [9]

Many others made well-documented jumps in the following centuries. As late as 1811, Albrecht Berblinger constructed an ornithopter and jumped into the Danube at Ulm. [10]

Kites Edit

The kite may have been the first form of man-made aircraft. [1] It was invented in China possibly as far back as the 5th century BC by Mozi (Mo Di) and Lu Ban (Gongshu Ban). [11] Later designs often emulated flying insects, birds, and other beasts, both real and mythical. Some were fitted with strings and whistles to make musical sounds while flying. [12] [13] [14] Ancient and medieval Chinese sources describe kites being used to measure distances, test the wind, lift men, signal, and communicate and send messages. [15]

Kites spread from China around the world. After its introduction into India, the kite further evolved into the fighter kite, where an abrasive line is used to cut down other kites.

Man-carrying kites Edit

Man-carrying kites are believed to have been used extensively in ancient China, for both civil and military purposes and sometimes enforced as a punishment. An early recorded flight was that of the prisoner Yuan Huangtou, a Chinese prince, in the 6th century AD. [16] Stories of man-carrying kites also occur in Japan, following the introduction of the kite from China around the seventh century AD. It is said that at one time there was a Japanese law against man-carrying kites. [17]

Rotor wings Edit

The use of a rotor for vertical flight has existed since 400 BC in the form of the bamboo-copter, an ancient Chinese toy. [18] [19] The similar "moulinet à noix" (rotor on a nut) appeared in Europe in the 14th century AD. [20]

Hot air balloons Edit

From ancient times the Chinese have understood that hot air rises and have applied the principle to a type of small hot air balloon called a sky lantern. A sky lantern consists of a paper balloon under or just inside which a small lamp is placed. Sky lanterns are traditionally launched for pleasure and during festivals. According to Joseph Needham, such lanterns were known in China from the 3rd century BC. Their military use is attributed to the general Zhuge Liang (180–234 AD, honorific title Kongming), who is said to have used them to scare the enemy troops. [21]

There is evidence that the Chinese also "solved the problem of aerial navigation" using balloons, hundreds of years before the 18th century. [22]

Renaissance Edit

Eventually, after Ibn Firnas's construction, some investigators began to discover and define some of the basics of rational aircraft design. Most notable of these was Leonardo da Vinci, although his work remained unknown until 1797, and so had no influence on developments over the next three hundred years. While his designs are rational, they are not scientific. [23] He particularly underestimated the amount of power that would be needed to propel a flying object, [24] basing his designs on the flapping wings of a bird rather than an engine-powered propeller. [25]

Leonardo studied bird and bat flight, [24] claiming the superiority of the latter owing to its unperforated wing. [26] He analyzed these and anticipating many principles of aerodynamics. He understood that "An object offers as much resistance to the air as the air does to the object." [27] Isaac Newton would not publish his third law of motion until 1687.

From the last years of the 15th century until 1505, [24] Leonardo wrote about and sketched many designs for flying machines and mechanisms, including ornithopters, fixed-wing gliders, rotorcraft (perhaps inspired by whirligig toys), parachutes (in the form of a wooden-framed pyramidal tent) and a wind speed gauge. [24] His early designs were man-powered and included ornithopters and rotorcraft however he came to realise the impracticality of this and later turned to controlled gliding flight, also sketching some designs powered by a spring. [28]

In an essay titled Sul volo (On flight), Leonardo describes a flying machine called "the bird" which he built from starched linen, leather joints, and raw silk thongs. In the Codex Atlanticus, he wrote, "Tomorrow morning, on the second day of January, 1496, I will make the thong and the attempt." [25] According to one commonly repeated, albeit presumably fictional story, in 1505 Leonardo or one of his pupils attempted to fly from the summit of Monte Ceceri. [24]

Beginnings of modern theories Edit

In 1670, Francesco Lana de Terzi published a work that suggested lighter than air flight would be possible by using copper foil spheres that, containing a vacuum, would be lighter than the displaced air to lift an airship. While theoretically sound, his design was not feasible: the pressure of the surrounding air would crush the spheres. The idea of using a vacuum to produce lift is now known as vacuum airship but remains unfeasible with any current materials.

In 1709, Bartolomeu de Gusmão presented a petition to King John V of Portugal, begging for support for his invention of an airship, in which he expressed the greatest confidence. The public test of the machine, which was set for 24 June 1709, did not take place. According to contemporary reports, however, Gusmão appears to have made several less ambitious experiments with this machine, descending from eminences. It is certain that Gusmão was working on this principle at the public exhibition he gave before the Court on 8 August 1709, in the hall of the Casa da Índia in Lisbon, when he propelled a ball to the roof by combustion. [ clarification needed ]

Balloons Edit

1783 was a watershed year for ballooning and aviation. Between 4 June and 1 December, five aviation firsts were achieved in France:

  • On 4 June, the Montgolfier brothers demonstrated their unmanned hot air balloon at Annonay, France.
  • On 27 August, Jacques Charles and the Robert brothers (Les Freres Robert) launched the world's first unmanned hydrogen-filled balloon, from the Champ de Mars, Paris.
  • On 19 October, the Montgolfiers launched the first manned flight, a tethered balloon with humans on board, at the Folie Titon in Paris. The aviators were the scientist Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier, the manufacture manager Jean-Baptiste Réveillon, and Giroud de Villette.
  • On 21 November, the Montgolfiers launched the first free flight with human passengers. King Louis XVI had originally decreed that condemned criminals would be the first pilots, but Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier, along with the Marquis François d'Arlandes, successfully petitioned for the honor. They drifted 8 km (5.0 mi) in a balloon-powered by a wood fire.
  • On 1 December, Jacques Charles and the Nicolas-Louis Robert launched their manned hydrogen balloon from the Jardin des Tuileries in Paris, as a crowd of 400,000 witnessed. They ascended to a height of about 1,800 feet (550 m)[15] and landed at sunset in Nesles-la-Vallée after a flight of 2 hours and 5 minutes, covering 36 km. After Robert alighted Charles decided to ascend alone. This time he ascended rapidly to an altitude of about 9,800 feet (3,000 m), where he saw the sun again, suffered extreme pain in his ears, and never flew again.

Ballooning became a major "rage" in Europe in the late 18th century, providing the first detailed understanding of the relationship between altitude and the atmosphere.

Non-steerable balloons were employed during the American Civil War by the Union Army Balloon Corps. The young Ferdinand von Zeppelin first flew as a balloon passenger with the Union Army of the Potomac in 1863.

In the early 1900s, ballooning was a popular sport in Britain. These privately owned balloons usually used coal gas as the lifting gas. This has half the lifting power of hydrogen so the balloons had to be larger, however, coal gas was far more readily available and the local gas works sometimes provided a special lightweight formula for ballooning events. [29]

Airships Edit

Airships were originally called "dirigible balloons" and are still sometimes called dirigibles today.

Work on developing a steerable (or dirigible) balloon continued sporadically throughout the 19th century. The first powered, controlled, sustained lighter-than-air flight is believed to have taken place in 1852 when Henri Giffard flew 15 miles (24 km) in France, with a steam engine driven craft.

Another advance was made in 1884, when the first fully controllable free-flight was made in a French Army electric-powered airship, La France, by Charles Renard and Arthur Krebs. The 170-foot (52 m) long, 66,000-cubic-foot (1,900 m 3 ) airship covered 8 km (5.0 mi) in 23 minutes with the aid of an 8½ horsepower electric motor.

However, these aircraft were generally short-lived and extremely frail. Routine, controlled flights would not occur until the advent of the internal combustion engine (see below.)

The first aircraft to make routine controlled flights were non-rigid airships (sometimes called "blimps".) The most successful early pioneering pilot of this type of aircraft was the Brazilian Alberto Santos-Dumont who effectively combined a balloon with an internal combustion engine. On 19 October 1901, he flew his airship Number 6 over Paris from the Parc de Saint Cloud around the Eiffel Tower and back in under 30 minutes to win the Deutsch de la Meurthe prize. Santos-Dumont went on to design and build several aircraft. The subsequent controversy surrounding his and others' competing claims with regard to aircraft overshadowed his great contribution to the development of airships.

At the same time that non-rigid airships were starting to have some success, the first successful rigid airships were also being developed. These would be far more capable than fixed-wing aircraft in terms of pure cargo carrying capacity for decades. Rigid airship design and advancement was pioneered by the German count Ferdinand von Zeppelin.

Construction of the first Zeppelin airship began in 1899 in a floating assembly hall on Lake Constance in the Bay of Manzell, Friedrichshafen. This was intended to ease the starting procedure, as the hall could easily be aligned with the wind. The prototype airship LZ 1 (LZ for "Luftschiff Zeppelin") had a length of 128 m (420 ft) was driven by two 10.6 kW (14.2 hp) Daimler engines and balanced by moving a weight between its two nacelles.

Its first flight, on 2 July 1900, lasted for only 18 minutes, as LZ 1 was forced to land on the lake after the winding mechanism for the balancing weight had broken. Upon repair, the technology proved its potential in subsequent flights, bettering the 6 m/s speed attained by the French airship La France by 3 m/s, but could not yet convince possible investors. It would be several years before the Count was able to raise enough funds for another try.

Although airships were used in both World War I and II, and continue on a limited basis to this day, their development has been largely overshadowed by heavier-than-air craft.

17th and 18th centuries Edit

Italian inventor Tito Livio Burattini, invited by the Polish King Władysław IV to his court in Warsaw, built a model aircraft with four fixed glider wings in 1647. [30] Described as "four pairs of wings attached to an elaborate 'dragon'", it was said to have successfully lifted a cat in 1648 but not Burattini himself. [31] He promised that "only the most minor injuries" would result from landing the craft. [32] His "Dragon Volant" is considered "the most elaborate and sophisticated aeroplane to be built before the 19th Century". [33]

The first published paper on aviation was "Sketch of a Machine for Flying in the Air" by Emanuel Swedenborg published in 1716. This flying machine consisted of a light frame covered with strong canvas and provided with two large oars or wings moving on a horizontal axis, arranged so that the upstroke met with no resistance while the downstroke provided lifting power. Swedenborg knew that the machine would not fly, but suggested it as a start and was confident that the problem would be solved. He wrote: "It seems easier to talk of such a machine than to put it into actuality, for it requires greater force and less weight than exists in a human body. The science of mechanics might perhaps suggest a means, namely, a strong spiral spring. If these advantages and requisites are observed, perhaps in time to come someone might know how better to utilize our sketch and cause some addition to be made so as to accomplish that which we can only suggest. Yet there are sufficient proofs and examples from nature that such flights can take place without danger, although when the first trials are made you may have to pay for the experience, and not mind an arm or leg". Swedenborg would prove prescient in his observation that a method of powering of an aircraft was one of the critical problems to be overcome.

On 16 May 1793, the Spanish inventor Diego Marín Aguilera managed to cross the river Arandilla in Coruña del Conde, Castile, flying 300 – 400 m, with a flying machine. [34]

19th century Edit

Balloon jumping replaced tower jumping, also demonstrating with typically fatal results that man-power and flapping wings were useless in achieving flight. At the same time scientific study of heavier-than-air flight began in earnest. In 1801, the French officer André Guillaume Resnier de Goué managed a 300-metre glide by starting from the top of the city walls of Angoulême and broke only one leg on arrival. [35] In 1837 French mathematician and brigadier general Isidore Didion stated, "Aviation will be successful only if one finds an engine whose ratio with the weight of the device to be supported will be larger than current steam machines or the strength developed by humans or most of the animals". [36]

Sir George Cayley and the first modern aircraft Edit

Sir George Cayley was first called the "father of the aeroplane" in 1846. [37] During the last years of the previous century he had begun the first rigorous study of the physics of flight and would later design the first modern heavier-than-air craft. Among his many achievements, his most important contributions to aeronautics include:

  • Clarifying our ideas and laying down the principles of heavier-than-air flight.
  • Reaching a scientific understanding of the principles of bird flight.
  • Conducting scientific aerodynamic experiments demonstrating drag and streamlining, movement of the centre of pressure, and the increase in lift from curving the wing surface.
  • Defining the modern aeroplane configuration comprising a fixed-wing, fuselage and tail assembly.
  • Demonstrations of manned, gliding flight.
  • Setting out the principles of power-to-weight ratio in sustaining flight.

Cayley's first innovation was to study the basic science of lift by adopting the whirling arm test rig for use in aircraft research and using simple aerodynamic models on the arm, rather than attempting to fly a model of a complete design.

In 1799, he set down the concept of the modern aeroplane as a fixed-wing flying machine with separate systems for lift, propulsion, and control. [38] [39]

In 1804, Cayley constructed a model glider which was the first modern heavier-than-air flying machine, having the layout of a conventional modern aircraft with an inclined wing towards the front and adjustable tail at the back with both tailplane and fin. A movable weight allowed adjustment of the model's centre of gravity. [40]

In 1809, goaded by the farcical antics of his contemporaries (see above), he began the publication of a landmark three-part treatise titled "On Aerial Navigation" (1809–1810). [41] In it he wrote the first scientific statement of the problem, "The whole problem is confined within these limits, viz. to make a surface support a given weight by the application of power to the resistance of air". He identified the four vector forces that influence an aircraft: thrust, lift, drag and weight and distinguished stability and control in his designs. He also identified and described the importance of the cambered aerofoil, dihedral, diagonal bracing and drag reduction, and contributed to the understanding and design of ornithopters and parachutes.

In 1848, he had progressed far enough to construct a glider in the form of a triplane large and safe enough to carry a child. A local boy was chosen but his name is not known. [42] [43]

He went on to publish in 1852 the design for a full-size manned glider or "governable parachute" to be launched from a balloon and then to construct a version capable of launching from the top of a hill, which carried the first adult aviator across Brompton Dale in 1853.

Minor inventions included the rubber-powered motor, [ citation needed ] which provided a reliable power source for research models. By 1808, he had even re-invented the wheel, devising the tension-spoked wheel in which all compression loads are carried by the rim, allowing a lightweight undercarriage. [44]

Age of steam Edit

Drawing directly from Cayley's work, Henson's 1842 design for an aerial steam carriage broke new ground. Although only a design, it was the first in history for a propeller-driven fixed-wing aircraft.

1866 saw the founding of the Aeronautical Society of Great Britain and two years later the world's first aeronautical exhibition was held at the Crystal Palace, London, [45] where John Stringfellow was awarded a £100 prize for the steam engine with the best power-to-weight ratio. [46] [47] [48] In 1848, Stringfellow achieved the first powered flight using an unmanned 10 feet (3.0 m) wingspan steam-powered monoplane built in a disused lace factory in Chard, Somerset. Employing two contra-rotating propellers on the first attempt, made indoors, the machine flew ten feet before becoming destabilised, damaging the craft. The second attempt was more successful, the machine leaving a guidewire to fly freely, achieving thirty yards of straight and level powered flight. [49] [50] [51] Francis Herbert Wenham presented the first paper to the newly formed Aeronautical Society (later the Royal Aeronautical Society), On Aerial Locomotion. He advanced Cayley's work on cambered wings, making important findings. To test his ideas, from 1858 he had constructed several gliders, both manned and unmanned, and with up to five stacked wings. He realised that long, thin wings are better than bat-like ones because they have more leading edge for their area. Today this relationship is known as the aspect ratio of a wing.

The latter part of the 19th century became a period of intense study, characterized by the "gentleman scientists" who represented most research efforts until the 20th century. Among them was the British scientist-philosopher and inventor Matthew Piers Watt Boulton, who studied lateral flight control and was the first to patent an aileron control system in 1868. [52] [53] [54] [55]

Meanwhile, the British advances had galvanised French researchers. In 1857, Félix du Temple proposed a monoplane with a tailplane and retractable undercarriage. Developing his ideas with a model powered first by clockwork and later by steam, he eventually achieved a short hop with a full-size manned craft in 1874. It achieved lift-off under its own power after launching from a ramp, glided for a short time and returned safely to the ground, making it the first successful powered glide in history.

In 1865, Louis Pierre Mouillard published an influential book The Empire Of The Air (l'Empire de l'Air).

In 1856, Frenchman Jean-Marie Le Bris made the first flight higher than his point of departure, by having his glider "L'Albatros artificiel " pulled by a horse on a beach. He reportedly achieved a height of 100 meters, over a distance of 200 meters.

Alphonse Pénaud, a Frenchman, advanced the theory of wing contours and aerodynamics and constructed successful models of aeroplanes, helicopters and ornithopters. In 1871 he flew the first aerodynamically stable fixed-wing aeroplane, a model monoplane he called the "Planophore", a distance of 40 m (130 ft). Pénaud's model incorporated several of Cayley's discoveries, including the use of a tail, wing dihedral for inherent stability, and rubber power. The planophore also had longitudinal stability, being trimmed such that the tailplane was set at a smaller angle of incidence than the wings, an original and important contribution to the theory of aeronautics. [57] Pénaud's later project for an amphibian aeroplane, although never built, incorporated other modern features. A tailless monoplane with a single vertical fin and twin tractor propellers, it also featured hinged rear elevator and rudder surfaces, retractable undercarriage and a fully enclosed, instrumented cockpit.

Equally authoritative as a theorist was Pénaud's fellow countryman Victor Tatin. In 1879, he flew a model which, like Pénaud's project, was a monoplane with twin tractor propellers but also had a separate horizontal tail. It was powered by compressed air. Flown tethered to a pole, this was the first model to take off under its own power.

In 1884, Alexandre Goupil published his work La Locomotion Aérienne (Aerial Locomotion), although the flying machine he later constructed failed to fly.

In 1890, the French engineer Clément Ader completed the first of three steam-driven flying machines, the Éole. On 9 October 1890, Ader made an uncontrolled hop of around 50 metres (160 ft) this was the first manned airplane to take off under its own power. [58] His Avion III of 1897, notable only for having twin steam engines, failed to fly: [59] Ader would later claim success and was not debunked until 1910 when the French Army published its report on his attempt.

Sir Hiram Maxim was an American engineer who had moved to England. He built his own whirling arm rig and wind tunnel and constructed a large machine with a wingspan of 105 feet (32 m), a length of 145 feet (44 m), fore and aft horizontal surfaces and a crew of three. Twin propellers were powered by two lightweight compound steam engines each delivering 180 hp (130 kW). The overall weight was 8,000 pounds (3,600 kg). It was intended as a test rig to investigate aerodynamic lift: lacking flight controls it ran on rails, with a second set of rails above the wheels to restrain it. Completed in 1894, on its third run it broke from the rail, became airborne for about 200 yards at two to three feet of altitude [60] and was badly damaged upon falling back to the ground. It was subsequently repaired, but Maxim abandoned his experiments shortly afterwards. [61]

Learning to glide Edit

In the last decade or so of the 19th century, a number of key figures were refining and defining the modern aeroplane. Lacking a suitable engine, aircraft work focused on stability and control in gliding flight. In 1879, Biot constructed a bird-like glider with the help of Massia and flew in it briefly. It is preserved in the Musee de l'Air, France, and is claimed to be the earliest man-carrying flying machine still in existence.

The Englishman Horatio Phillips made key contributions to aerodynamics. He conducted extensive wind tunnel research on aerofoil sections, proving the principles of aerodynamic lift foreseen by Cayley and Wenham. His findings underpin all modern aerofoil design. Between 1883 and 1886, the American John Joseph Montgomery developed a series of three manned gliders, before conducting his own independent investigations into aerodynamics and circulation of lift.

Otto Lilienthal became known as the "Glider King" or "Flying Man" of Germany. He duplicated Wenham's work and greatly expanded on it in 1884, publishing his research in 1889 as Birdflight as the Basis of Aviation (Der Vogelflug als Grundlage der Fliegekunst). He also produced a series of hang gliders, including bat-wing, monoplane and biplane forms, such as the Derwitzer Glider and Normal soaring apparatus. Starting in 1891, he became the first person to make controlled untethered glides routinely, and the first to be photographed flying a heavier-than-air machine, stimulating interest around the world. He rigorously documented his work, including photographs, and for this reason is one of the best known of the early pioneers. Lilienthal made over 2,000 glides until his death in 1896 from injuries sustained in a glider crash.

Picking up where Lilienthal left off, Octave Chanute took up aircraft design after an early retirement, and funded the development of several gliders. In the summer of 1896, his team flew several of their designs eventually deciding that the best was a biplane design. Like Lilienthal, he documented and photographed his work.

In Britain Percy Pilcher, who had worked for Maxim, built and successfully flew several gliders during the mid to late 1890s.

The invention of the box kite during this period by the Australian Lawrence Hargrave would lead to the development of the practical biplane. In 1894, Hargrave linked four of his kites together, added a sling seat, and was the first to obtain lift with a heavier than air aircraft, when he flew up 16 feet (4.9 m). Later pioneers of manned kite flying included Samuel Franklin Cody in England and Captain Génie Saconney in France.

Frost Edit

William Frost from Pembrokeshire, Wales started his project in 1880 and after 16 years, he designed a flying machine and in 1894 won a patent for a "Frost Aircraft Glider". Spectators witnessed the craft fly at Saundersfoot in 1896, traveling 500 yards before colliding with a tree and falling in a field. [62]

Langley Edit

After a distinguished career in astronomy and shortly before becoming Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, Samuel Pierpont Langley started a serious investigation into aerodynamics at what is today the University of Pittsburgh. In 1891, he published Experiments in Aerodynamics detailing his research, and then turned to building his designs. He hoped to achieve automatic aerodynamic stability, so he gave little consideration to in-flight control. [63] On 6 May 1896, Langley's Aerodrome No. 5 made the first successful sustained flight of an unpiloted, engine-driven heavier-than-air craft of substantial size. It was launched from a spring-actuated catapult mounted on top of a houseboat on the Potomac River near Quantico, Virginia. Two flights were made that afternoon, one of 1,005 metres (3,297 ft) and a second of 700 metres (2,300 ft), at a speed of approximately 25 miles per hour (40 km/h). On both occasions, the Aerodrome No. 5 landed in the water as planned, because, in order to save weight, it was not equipped with landing gear. On 28 November 1896, another successful flight was made with the Aerodrome No. 6. This flight, of 1,460 metres (4,790 ft), was witnessed and photographed by Alexander Graham Bell. The Aerodrome No. 6 was actually Aerodrome No. 4 greatly modified. So little remained of the original aircraft that it was given a new designation.

With the successes of the Aerodrome No. 5 and No. 6, Langley started looking for funding to build a full-scale man-carrying version of his designs. Spurred by the Spanish–American War, the U.S. government granted him $50,000 to develop a man-carrying flying machine for aerial reconnaissance. Langley planned on building a scaled-up version known as the Aerodrome A, and started with the smaller Quarter-scale Aerodrome, which flew twice on 18 June 1901, and then again with a newer and more powerful engine in 1903.

With the basic design apparently successfully tested, he then turned to the problem of a suitable engine. He contracted Stephen Balzer to build one, but was disappointed when it delivered only 8 hp (6.0 kW) instead of 12 hp (8.9 kW) he expected. Langley's assistant, Charles M. Manly, then reworked the design into a five-cylinder water-cooled radial that delivered 52 hp (39 kW) at 950 rpm, a feat that took years to duplicate. Now with both power and a design, Langley put the two together with great hopes.

To his dismay, the resulting aircraft proved to be too fragile. Simply scaling up the original small models resulted in a design that was too weak to hold itself together. Two launches in late 1903 both ended with the Aerodrome immediately crashing into the water. The pilot, Manly, was rescued each time. Also, the aircraft's control system was inadequate to allow quick pilot responses, and it had no method of lateral control, and the Aerodrome ' s aerial stability was marginal. [63]

Langley's attempts to gain further funding failed, and his efforts ended. Nine days after his second abortive launch on 8 December, the Wright brothers successfully flew their Flyer. Glenn Curtiss made 93 modifications to the Aerodrome and flew this very different aircraft in 1914. [63] Without acknowledging the modifications, the Smithsonian Institution asserted that Langley's Aerodrome was the first machine "capable of flight". [64]

Whitehead Edit

Gustave Weißkopf was a German who emigrated to the U.S., where he soon changed his name to Whitehead. From 1897 to 1915, he designed and built early flying machines and engines. On 14 August 1901, two and a half years before the Wright Brothers' flight, he claimed to have carried out a controlled, powered flight in his Number 21 monoplane at Fairfield, Connecticut. The flight was reported in the Bridgeport Sunday Herald local newspaper. About 30 years later, several people questioned by a researcher claimed to have seen that or other Whitehead flights. [ citation needed ]

In March 2013, Jane's All the World's Aircraft, an authoritative source for contemporary aviation, published an editorial which accepted Whitehead's flight as the first manned, powered, controlled flight of a heavier-than-air craft. [65] The Smithsonian Institution (custodians of the original Wright Flyer) and many aviation historians continue to maintain that Whitehead did not fly as suggested. [66] [67]

Wright brothers Edit

Using a methodical approach and concentrating on the controllability of the aircraft, the brothers built and tested a series of kite and glider designs from 1898 to 1902 before attempting to build a powered design. The gliders worked, but not as well as the Wrights had expected based on the experiments and writings of their predecessors. Their first full-size glider, launched in 1900, had only about half the lift they anticipated. Their second glider, built the following year, performed even more poorly. Rather than giving up, the Wrights constructed their own wind tunnel and created a number of sophisticated devices to measure lift and drag on the 200 wing designs they tested. [68] As a result, the Wrights corrected earlier mistakes in calculations regarding drag and lift. Their testing and calculating produced a third glider with a higher aspect ratio and true three-axis control. They flew it successfully hundreds of times in 1902, and it performed far better than the previous models. By using a rigorous system of experimentation, involving wind-tunnel testing of airfoils and flight testing of full-size prototypes, the Wrights not only built a working aircraft the following year, the Wright Flyer, but also helped advance the science of aeronautical engineering.

The Wrights appear to be the first to make serious studied attempts to simultaneously solve the power and control problems. Both problems proved difficult, but they never lost interest. They solved the control problem by inventing wing warping for roll control, combined with simultaneous yaw control with a steerable rear rudder. Almost as an afterthought, they designed and built a low-powered internal combustion engine. They also designed and carved wooden propellers that were more efficient than any before, enabling them to gain adequate performance from their low engine power. Although wing-warping as a means of lateral control was used only briefly during the early history of aviation, the principle of combining lateral control in combination with a rudder was a key advance in aircraft control. While many aviation pioneers appeared to leave safety largely to chance, the Wrights' design was greatly influenced by the need to teach themselves to fly without unreasonable risk to life and limb, by surviving crashes. This emphasis, as well as low engine power, was the reason for low flying speed and for taking off in a headwind. Performance, rather than safety, was the reason for the rear-heavy design because the canard could not be highly loaded anhedral wings were less affected by crosswinds and were consistent with the low yaw stability.

According to the Smithsonian Institution and Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), [71] [72] the Wrights made the first sustained, controlled, powered heavier-than-air manned flight at Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, four miles (8 km) south of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina on 17 December 1903. [73]

The first flight by Orville Wright, of 120 feet (37 m) in 12 seconds, was recorded in a famous photograph. In the fourth flight of the same day, Wilbur Wright flew 852 feet (260 m) in 59 seconds. The flights were witnessed by three coastal lifesaving crewmen, a local businessman, and a boy from the village, making these the first public flights and the first well-documented ones. [73]

Orville described the final flight of the day: "The first few hundred feet were up and down, as before, but by the time three hundred feet had been covered, the machine was under much better control. The course for the next four or five hundred feet had but little undulation. However, when out about eight hundred feet the machine began pitching again, and, in one of its darts downward, struck the ground. The distance over the ground was measured to be 852 feet (260 m) the time of the flight was 59 seconds. The frame supporting the front rudder was badly broken, but the main part of the machine was not injured at all. We estimated that the machine could be put in condition for flight again in about a day or two". [74] They flew only about ten feet above the ground as a safety precaution, so they had little room to manoeuvre, and all four flights in the gusty winds ended in a bumpy and unintended "landing". Modern analysis by Professor Fred E. C. Culick and Henry R. Rex (1985) has demonstrated that the 1903 Wright Flyer was so unstable as to be almost unmanageable by anyone but the Wrights, who had trained themselves in the 1902 glider. [75]

The Wrights continued flying at Huffman Prairie near Dayton, Ohio in 1904–05. In May 1904 they introduced the Flyer II, a heavier and improved version of the original Flyer. On 23 June 1905, they first flew a third machine, the Flyer III. After a severe crash on 14 July 1905, they rebuilt the Flyer III and made important design changes. They almost doubled the size of the elevator and rudder and moved them about twice the distance from the wings. They added two fixed vertical vanes (called "blinkers") between the elevators and gave the wings a very slight dihedral. They disconnected the rudder from the wing-warping control, and as in all future aircraft, placed it on a separate control handle. When flights resumed the results were immediate. The serious pitch instability that hampered Flyers I and II was significantly reduced, so repeated minor crashes were eliminated. Flights with the redesigned Flyer III started lasting over 10 minutes, then 20, then 30. Flyer III became the first practical aircraft (though without wheels and needing a launching device), flying consistently under full control and bringing its pilot back to the starting point safely and landing without damage. On 5 October 1905, Wilbur flew 24 miles (39 km) in 39 minutes 23 seconds." [76]

According to the April 1907 issue of the Scientific American magazine, [77] the Wright brothers seemed to have the most advanced knowledge of heavier-than-air navigation at the time. However, the same magazine issue also claimed that no public flight had been made in the United States before its April 1907 issue. Hence, they devised the Scientific American Aeronautic Trophy in order to encourage the development of a heavier-than-air flying machine.

This period saw the development of practical aeroplanes and airships and their early application, alongside balloons and kites, for private, sport and military use.

Pioneers in Europe Edit

Although full details of the Wright Brothers' system of flight control had been published in l'Aerophile in January 1906, the importance of this advance was not recognised, and European experimenters generally concentrated on attempting to produce inherently stable machines.

Short powered flights were performed in France by Romanian engineer Traian Vuia on 18 March and 19 August 1906 when he flew 12 and 24 meters, respectively, in a self-designed, fully self-propelled, fixed-wing aircraft, that possessed a fully wheeled undercarriage. [78] [79] He was followed by Jacob Ellehammer who built a monoplane which he tested with a tether in Denmark on 12 September 1906, flying 42 meters. [80]

On 13 September 1906, a day after Ellehammer's tethered flight and three years after the Wright Brothers' flight, the Brazilian Alberto Santos-Dumont made a public flight in Paris with the 14-bis, also known as Oiseau de proie (French for "bird of prey"). This was of canard configuration with pronounced wing dihedral, and covered a distance of 60 m (200 ft) on the grounds of the Chateau de Bagatelle in Paris' Bois de Boulogne before a large crowd of witnesses. This well-documented event was the first flight verified by the Aéro-Club de France of a powered heavier-than-air machine in Europe and won the Deutsch-Archdeacon Prize for the first officially observed flight greater than 25 m (82 ft). On 12 November 1906, Santos-Dumont set the first world record recognized by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale by flying 220 m (720 ft) in 21.5 seconds. [81] [82] Only one more brief flight was made by the 14-bis in March 1907, after which it was abandoned. [83]

In March 1907, Gabriel Voisin flew the first example of his Voisin biplane. On 13 January 1908, a second example of the type was flown by Henri Farman to win the Deutsch-Archdeacon Grand Prix d'Aviation prize for a flight in which the aircraft flew a distance of more than a kilometer and landed at the point where it had taken off. The flight lasted 1 minute and 28 seconds. [84]

Flight as an established technology Edit

Santos-Dumont later added ailerons, between the wings in an effort to gain more lateral stability. His final design, first flown in 1907, was the series of Demoiselle monoplanes (Nos. 19 to 22). The Demoiselle No 19 could be constructed in only 15 days and became the world's first series production aircraft. The Demoiselle achieved 120 km/h. [85] The fuselage consisted of three specially reinforced bamboo booms: the pilot sat in a seat between the main wheels of a conventional landing gear whose pair of wire-spoked mainwheels were located at the lower front of the airframe, with a tailskid half-way back beneath the rear fuselage structure. The Demoiselle was controlled in flight by a cruciform tail unit hinged on a form of universal joint at the aft end of the fuselage structure to function as elevator and rudder, with roll control provided through wing warping (No. 20), with the wings only warping "down".

In 1908, Wilbur Wright travelled to Europe, and starting in August gave a series of flight demonstrations at Le Mans in France. The first demonstration, made on 8 August, attracted an audience including most of the major French aviation experimenters, who were astonished by the clear superiority of the Wright Brothers' aircraft, particularly its ability to make tight controlled turns. [86] The importance of using roll control in making turns was recognised by almost all the European experimenters: Henri Farman fitted ailerons to his Voisin biplane and shortly afterwards set up his own aircraft construction business, whose first product was the influential Farman III biplane.

The following year saw the widespread recognition of powered flight as something other than the preserve of dreamers and eccentrics. On 25 July 1909, Louis Blériot won worldwide fame by winning a £1,000 prize offered by the British Daily Mail newspaper for a flight across the English Channel, and in August around half a million people, including the President of France Armand Fallières and David Lloyd George, attended one of the first aviation meetings, the Grande Semaine d'Aviation at Reims.

In 1914 pioneering aviator Tony Jannus captained the inaugural flight of the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line, the world's first commercial passenger airline.

Rotorcraft Edit

In 1877, Enrico Forlanini developed an unmanned helicopter powered by a steam engine. It rose to a height of 13 meters, where it remained for 20 seconds, after a vertical take-off from a park in Milan.

The first time a manned helicopter is known to have risen off the ground was on a tethered flight in 1907 by the Breguet-Richet Gyroplane. Later the same year the Cornu helicopter, also French, made the first rotary-winged free flight at Lisieux, France. However, these were not practical designs.

Military use Edit

Almost as soon as they were invented, airplanes were used for military purposes. The first country to use them for military purposes was Italy, whose aircraft made reconnaissance, bombing and artillery correction flights in Libya during the Italian-Turkish war (September 1911 – October 1912). The first mission (a reconnaissance) occurred on 23 October 1911. The first bombing mission was flown on 1 November 1911. [87] Then Bulgaria followed this example. Its airplanes attacked and reconnoitered the Ottoman positions during the First Balkan War 1912–13. The first war to see major use of airplanes in offensive, defensive and reconnaissance capabilities was World War I. The Allies and Central Powers both used airplanes and airships extensively.

While the concept of using the airplane as an offensive weapon was generally discounted before World War I, [88] the idea of using it for photography was one that was not lost on any of the major forces. All of the major forces in Europe had light aircraft, typically derived from pre-war sporting designs, attached to their reconnaissance departments. Radiotelephones were also being explored on airplanes, notably the SCR-68, as communication between pilots and ground commander grew more and more important.

Combat schemes Edit

It was not long before aircraft were shooting at each other, but the lack of any sort of steady point for the gun was a problem. The French solved this problem when, in late 1914, Roland Garros attached a fixed machine gun to the front of his plane, but while Adolphe Pegoud would become known as the first "ace", getting credit for five victories before also becoming the first ace to die in action, it was German Luftstreitkräfte Leutnant Kurt Wintgens who, on 1 July 1915, scored the very first aerial victory by a purpose-built fighter plane, with a synchronized machine gun.

Aviators were styled as modern-day knights, doing individual combat with their enemies. Several pilots became famous for their air-to-air combat the most well known is Manfred von Richthofen, better known as the Red Baron, who shot down 80 planes in air-to-air combat with several different planes, the most celebrated of which was the Fokker Dr.I. On the Allied side, René Paul Fonck is credited with the most all-time victories at 75, even when later wars are considered.

France, Britain, Germany and Italy were the leading manufacturers of fighter planes that saw action during the war, [89] with German aviation technologist Hugo Junkers showing the way to the future through his pioneering use of all-metal aircraft from late 1915.

The years between World War I and World War II saw great advancements in aircraft technology. Airplanes evolved from low-powered biplanes made from wood and fabric to sleek, high-powered monoplanes made of aluminum, based primarily on the founding work of Hugo Junkers during the World War I period and its adoption by American designer William Bushnell Stout and Soviet designer Andrei Tupolev. The age of the great rigid airships came and went. The first successful rotorcraft appeared in the form of the autogyro, invented by Spanish engineer Juan de la Cierva and first flown in 1919. In this design, the rotor is not powered but is spun like a windmill by its passage through the air. A separate powerplant is used to propel the aircraft forwards.

After World War I, experienced fighter pilots were eager to show off their skills. Many American pilots became barnstormers, flying into small towns across the country and showing off their flying abilities, as well as taking paying passengers for rides. Eventually, the barnstormers grouped into more organized displays. Air shows sprang up around the country, with air races, acrobatic stunts, and feats of air superiority. The air races drove engine and airframe development—the Schneider Trophy, for example, led to a series of ever faster and sleeker monoplane designs culminating in the Supermarine S.6B. With pilots competing for cash prizes, there was an incentive to go faster. Amelia Earhart was perhaps the most famous of those on the barnstorming/air show circuit. She was also the first female pilot to achieve records such as the crossing of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

Other prizes, for distance and speed records, also drove development forwards. For example, on 14 June 1919, Captain John Alcock and Lieutenant Arthur Brown co-piloted a Vickers Vimy non-stop from St. John's, Newfoundland to Clifden, Ireland, winning the £13,000 ($65,000) [90] Northcliffe prize. The first flight across the South Atlantic and the first aerial crossing using astronomical navigation, was made by the naval aviators Gago Coutinho and Sacadura Cabral in 1922, from Lisbon, Portugal, to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, with only internal means of navigation, in an aircraft specifically fitted for himself with an artificial horizon for aeronautical use, an invention that revolutionized air navigation at the time (Gago Coutinho invented a type of sextant incorporating two spirit levels to provide an artificial horizon). [91] [92] Five years later Charles Lindbergh took the Orteig Prize of $25,000 for the first solo non-stop crossing of the Atlantic. Months after Lindbergh, Paul Redfern was the first to solo the Caribbean Sea and was last seen flying over Venezuela.

Australian Sir Charles Kingsford Smith was the first to fly across the larger Pacific Ocean in the Southern Cross. His crew left Oakland, California to make the first trans-Pacific flight to Australia in three stages. The first (from Oakland to Hawaii) was 2,400 miles (3,900 km), took 27 hours 25 minutes, and was uneventful. They then flew to Suva, Fiji 3,100 miles (5,000 km) away, taking 34 hours 30 minutes. This was the toughest part of the journey as they flew through a massive lightning storm near the equator. They then flew on to Brisbane in 20 hours, where they landed on 9 June 1928 after approximately 7,400 miles (11,900 km) total flight. On arrival, Kingsford Smith was met by a huge crowd of 25,000 at Eagle Farm Airport in his hometown of Brisbane. Accompanying him were Australian aviator Charles Ulm as the relief pilot, and the Americans James Warner and Captain Harry Lyon (who were the radio operator, navigator and engineer). A week after they landed, Kingsford Smith and Ulm recorded a disc for Columbia talking about their trip. With Ulm, Kingsford Smith later continued his journey being the first in 1929 to circumnavigate the world, crossing the equator twice.

The first lighter-than-air crossings of the Atlantic were made by airship in July 1919 by His Majesty's Airship R34 and crew when they flew from East Lothian, Scotland to Long Island, New York and then back to Pulham, England. By 1929, airship technology had advanced to the point that the first round-the-world flight was completed by the Graf Zeppelin in September and in October, the same aircraft inaugurated the first commercial transatlantic service. However, the age of the rigid airship ended following the destruction by fire of the zeppelin LZ 129 Hindenburg just before landing at Lakehurst, New Jersey on 6 May 1937, killing 35 of the 97 people aboard. Previous spectacular airship accidents, from the Wingfoot Express disaster (1919) to the loss of the R101 (1930), the Akron (1933) and the Macon (1935) had already cast doubt on airship safety, but with the disasters of the U.S. Navy's rigids showing the importance of solely using helium as the lifting medium following the destruction of the Hindenburg, the remaining airship making international flights, the Graf Zeppelin was retired (June 1937). Its replacement, the rigid airship Graf Zeppelin II, made a number of flights, primarily over Germany, from 1938 to 1939, but was grounded when Germany began World War II. Both remaining German zeppelins were scrapped in 1940 to supply metal for the German Luftwaffe the last American rigid airship, the Los Angeles, which had not flown since 1932, was dismantled in late 1939.

Meanwhile, Germany, which was restricted by the Treaty of Versailles in its development of powered aircraft, developed gliding as a sport, especially at the Wasserkuppe, during the 1920s. In its various forms, in the 21st century sailplane aviation now has over 400,000 participants. [93] [94]

The first flyer in Texas—and his airplane

Slats Rodgers was the first Texan to receive a pilot’s license. He was also the first Texan to have his license revoked.

Between his first flight in 1912 and his death in 1956, Rodgers was a barnstormer, a stunt pilot, a parachutist, an aerial bootlegger, an instructor pilot, a pioneering cropduster, and a skyborne smuggler of everything from silk and perfume to ammunition.

He walked away from 27 crashes. “The twenty-eighth time I didn’t walk away because my foot went through the floorboard and got caught,” he reported in Old Soggy No. 1, the picaresque autobiography he wrote in collaboration with newspaper reporter and novelist Hart Stilwell. “The twenty-ninth time I came down out of a tall tree and left her hanging sixty feet up.”

Born in Georgia in 1889, Floyd H. Rodgers moved to Keene, Texas, as a teenager. His rail-thin physique earned the sobriquet Slats. In 1911, after studying the meager material he could find in libraries, he built a model airplane, which generated so much publicity he decided to build—and fly—a full-scale airplane.

Rodgers ordered spruce from Oregon, turnbuckles from France, and a noisy but anemic two-stroke engine from St. Louis. When the airplane—the first in Texas—was finished, Rodgers ground-looped it repeatedly. After six weeks of taxi testing, he made his maiden flight by accident when he lifted off to avoid a ditch.

Two hundred feet later, Rodgers suffered his first crash. The impact broke off the wheels and the right wing. Passing the hat, Rodgers collected enough money to rebuild the airplane, but an undiagnosed defect made the right wing sag in flight. Rodgers dubbed the airplane “Old Soggy No. 1.”

In 1912, after boozing with friends in Fort Worth, Slats announced, “I’m going to fly her or tear her apart.” He bounced Old Soggy into the air. And when the right wing started sinking, as usual, “I leaned to the left hard,” he recalled. “The wing came up. ‘I got you, you lop-eared bastard,’ I said.”

Now that he was actually flying, Rodgers faced an even more vexing problem. “I started to turn the thing and I felt it slipping and quivering so I straightened it back up in a hurry,” he wrote. “I had never seen anybody fly a ship—I never had even seen one except mine.” Rodgers landed in a cornfield. After teaching himself how to bank the airplane, he made about 50 flights before retiring Old Soggy in 1913.

Six years later, Rodgers bought a Lincoln Standard five-passenger biplane and started bootlegging whiskey from Mexico. He spent much of the next decade playing cat-and-mouse with Texas Rangers. But most of his notoriety came from newspaper coverage of his escapades as one of the so-called Love Field Lunatics in Dallas, a rag-tag group of pilots who flew airshows over Love Field as a cover for smuggling.

In various airplanes, Rodgers landed with a dead engine on a street in Houston, flew between two skyscrapers in Dallas to win a bet (and lost his license, acquired in 1926), and parachuted from a Curtiss Jenny that he torched at an airshow. He later started cropdusting in the Rio Grande Valley in another Jenny with holes cut in the floorboard to dispense chemicals. He even made a pioneering weather-modification flight, skimming over tomato plants and churning the air to prevent them from freezing. “A couple of times chunks of tomato stalks, chopped off by the prop, hit me in the face and woke me,” he wrote. “If you know how high a tomato stalk grows, then you know where I was.”

While living in the valley, Rodgers taught R.C. “Doc” Hausinger to fly. Decades later, Hausinger’s widow, Averil, commissioned the construction of a half-scale model of Old Soggy and donated it to Southwestern Adventist University in Keene, where it now hangs in the Hopps Museum.

The model builder, Southwestern Adventist alum John Beach, worked largely from Rodgers’ book and the one extant photo of Slats sitting in Old Soggy. “I didn’t do it intentionally,” Beach says, “but the right wing kind of droops a little bit.”

Longtime Air & Space/Smithsonian contributor Preston Lerner came across Old Soggy No. 1 while working as a newspaper reporter in Texas.

The first flight (including gliding) by a person is unknown. Several have been suggested.

  • In 559 A.D., several prisoners of Emperor Wenxuan of Northern Qi, including Yuan Huangtou of Ye, were said to have been forced to launch themselves with a kite from a tower, as an experiment. Only Yuan Huangtou survived, only to be executed later. [citation needed]
  • In the 9th century, the Andulasian-Muslim Abbas ibn Firnas attempted a short gliding flight with wings covered with feathers from the Tower of Cordoba but was injured while landing. [1]
  • In the early 11th century, Eilmer of Malmesbury, an English Benedictine monk, attempted a gliding flight using wings. He is recorded as travelling a modest distance before breaking his legs on landing. [2]
  • between 1630 and 1632, Hezarfen Ahmed Çelebi is said to have glided over the Bosphorus strait from the Galata Tower to the Uskudar district in Istanbul. [3][4]
  • In 1633 his brother Lagari Hasan Çelebi may have survived a flight on a 7-winged rocket powered by gunpowder from Sarayburnu, the point below Topkapı Palace in Istanbul. [5][6]

None of these historical accounts are adequately supported by corroborating evidence nor have any been widely accepted. The first confirmed human flight was accomplished by Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier in a tethered Montgolfier balloon in 1783.

1908: The Year the Airplane Went Public

The honor is indisputably theirs: Wilbur and Orville Wright made the first powered, sustained, controlled, heavier-than-air flights at Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina on December 17, 1903.

From This Story

Video: Wright B Over Manhattan, 1912

Video: Teddy Roosevelt Goes Flying

Video: A Dash Through the Clouds, 1912

Henry Farman flying his Voisin Farman I in a one-kilometer circle to win the Deutsche-Archdeacon prize in Paris, January 13, 1908. Members of the Aero Club de France wave their hats. (NASM (SI 89-19606)) July 4, 1908: Glenn Curtiss and his June Bug win the Scientific American trophy for a flight of almost a mile at Hammondsport, New York. (NASM A-516-A) Wilbur Wright seated in his Wright Type A at the Hunaudieres race course near Le Mans, France, August, 1908. (NASM (2003-29080)) Flight trials over LeMans, France, in August 1908, with Wilbur Wright at the controls. (NASM (SI 86-13505)) Wilbur Wright (right) gets help disassembling his Wright Type A after a flight at LeMans, France, August 13, 1908. (NASM (SI 93-7193)) Crowds gathered for one of Wilbur Wright’s 1908 flights over LeMans, France. (NASM (SI 76-1300)) Orville Wright flies over Fort Myer, Virginia during Army trials, September 9, 1908. (USAF) At Fort Myer, Virginia, the son of photographer Carl H. Claudy, Sr. watches the Wright Military Flyer during Army trials in the summer of 1908. (NASM (SI 85-10846)) Orville Wright flying over Fort Myer, Virginia, during U.S. Army Trials, summer 1908. (NASM (SI 95-8963)) A reproduction of the Wright 1908 Model A -- the airplane that Orville Wright demonstrated to the U.S. Army at Fort Myer, Virginia -- will be on display Saturday, September 6, 2008 at the Centennial of Military Aviation celebration in Arlington, Virginia. For details, visit (Paul Glenshaw)

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But even though they had succeeded, the Wrights recognized that they had a considerable distance to go before they could claim to have developed a practical flying machine. So they continued their work in a Dayton cow pasture in 1904 and 1905. By the fall of 1905, they had transformed the marginal success of 1903 into the reality of a practical airplane capable of traveling many miles through the air and remaining aloft for more than an hour at a time. The Wrights worried about being copied, though. Unwilling to unveil their creation without the protection of a patent and a signed sales contract, the brothers remained on the ground for the next two and a half years as they attempted to market their invention.

So it was that as 1908 dawned, almost no one realized that the age of winged flight had been under way for more than four years. That was about to change. With contracts for the sale of airplanes to a French syndicate and the U.S. Army finally in hand, the Wrights were ready to take to the air once again that spring. They returned to the Kill Devil Hills with a rebuilt version of their 1905 airplane—now modified with upright seating and controls, and a second seat for a passenger. On May 14, 1908, Wilbur and Orville alternated taking Charles Furnas, one of their mechanics, up as the world’s first airplane passenger.

While the Wrights prepared for their first public flights, other experimenters took to the air, often with crowds watching in amazement. On January 13, 1908, Henry Farman flew his Voisin Farman I in a one-kilometer circle to win the 50,000-franc Deutsche-Archdeacon prize. It was a big spring for the Aerial Experiment Association, as well. Founded by Alexander Graham Bell, the AEA included a pair of young Canadian enthusiasts, Frederick W. “Casey” Baldwin and J.A.D. McCurdy, along with two Americans, Lt. Thomas Selfridge of the U.S. Army and Glenn Hammond Curtiss. The AEA built and flew a series of three aircraft that spring and summer, culminating in Curtiss’s flight aboard the biplane June Bug at Hammondsport on July 4, 1908. Covering almost a mile in one minute 42.5 seconds, the achievement earned the group the Scientific American Trophy. Later that summer, Curtiss traveled to Fort Myer, Virginia, where he flew with Captain T.S. Baldwin aboard the hydrogen-filled dirigible airship SC-1, which was purchased by the Army.

The excitement peaked on August 8, 1908, when Wilbur Wright made his first flight in public at the Hunaudieres race course, five miles south of Le Mans, France. Over the next several weeks he made headlines around the world with one stunning flight after another—demonstrating once and for all that the Wrights’ claim to priority in the invention of the airplane was true (there had been skeptics), and that their airplanes were capable of tight turns and a degree of control impossible with other machines.

Orville Wright joined his brother in the limelight on September 3, 1908, when he made his first public flight at Fort Myer. Like Wilbur, he continued to fly over the next two weeks, carrying passengers and meeting criteria established by the Army for the purchase of an airplane. Tragedy struck on September 17, when Orville crashed at Fort Myer while flying with Selfridge, who became the first person to die in a powered airplane crash. Orville recovered, but lived with the pain resulting from the accident for the rest of his life.

The momentous year was far from over. On October 16, the American Samuel Franklin Cowdery (aka S.F. Cody) made the first flight in Great Britain. Once Orville Wright was back on his feet, he and his sister Katharine joined their brother in Europe. The three Wrights were now the toast of the continent. Crowned heads, political leaders, captains of industry and ordinary folk traveled to witness the miracle of flight. Wilbur capped this extraordinary year with a flight of more than 76 miles in 2 hours 18 minutes 33 3/5ths seconds on December 31, which earned him the Michelin Cup and a 20,000 franc cash prize for the best flight of 1908.

By year’s end, no skeptic doubted that the age of flight had arrived, and that the Wrights were leading the way.

Tom D. Crouch is a Wright biographer and senior curator in the aeronautics division of the National Air and Space Museum. His books include The Bishop’s Boys: A Life of Wilbur and Orville Wright.

About Tom Crouch

Tom Crouch is a senior curator in the National Air and Space Museum’s aeronautics department. An historian of early flight, he is the author of The Bishop’s Boys: A Life of Wilbur and Orville Wright.

The First Airplane Passenger

Just before 8 a.m. on May 14, 1908, Wilbur Wright made an easy landing on the beach at Kitty Hawk. He had covered about 2,000 feet in just over 28 seconds, figures that by this point in his career were routine, even underwhelming. But it was still a flight for the record books: For the first time, one of the Wrights had taken a second person aboard one of their wood-and-fabric machines. That man was my great-great-great-uncle, Charles Furnas.

Charley, as friends and family knew him, traveled a curious path to his role with the Wrights. He was born in 1880 in West Milton, Ohio, on the outskirts of the Wrights’ hometown, Dayton. Exchange apps for engines and you can imagine southwest Ohio as the Silicon Valley of late 19th century America. In that era, Ohio inventors were stoking a revolution in transportation. Dayton ranked fifth in the nation in patents issued per capita in 1870, and first by 1890. The atmosphere must have been charged with excitement for technology, with everyone trying to make something important, or make a buck, or—ideally—both.

In 1902, Charley joined the Navy, hoping to gain mechanical experience. After serving four years as a mechanic’s mate, he got an honorable discharge and returned to Dayton with ambitions to put his skills to work. By 1908, Charley was working for a Dayton machinist whose shop was within walking distance of the Wright bicycle shop on West Third Street.

According to Wilbur’s diaries, Charley had observed some of the Wrights’ flying tests at Huffman Prairie in November 1904, likely while he was on Thanksgiving leave from the Navy. The Wrights were famous men by 1908. Charley was one of their most enthusiastic fans, and he could barely contain his excitement at working just down the street from them. He made frequent visits to their shop, pestering the brothers to teach him about flying while offering labor in exchange.

Eventually, the Wrights allowed Charley to assist their full-time mechanic, Charles Taylor, on various odd jobs. On April 11, 1908, Charley received his first paycheck from the Wright organization.

He’d begun working for the brothers just as they had finally succeeded in selling an airplane to the U.S. Army for $30,000 (more than $700,000, adjusted for inflation). Soon after that, they were contacted by a group of French businessmen who wanted to manufacture their own Wright-model aircraft in Europe.

Charles Furnas at age 20 (NASM)

Both deals were contingent upon the airplane’s capability to carry a passenger. Most of Charley’s work was likely modifying their 1905 machine, the Flyer III, which would become the first capable of carrying a passenger. When the new machine was complete, Wilbur left for Kitty Hawk in early April, with Orville slated to join him at the end of the month.

Upon his return to Kitty Hawk for the first time in five years, Wilbur found that weather and looters had left the Wrights’ campsite and hangar in shambles. He assembled a local crew to help redevelop the camp, but was hit with another setback: He fell ill. As he reached his wit’s end, Wilbur received a big surprise, recorded in his diary on April 15, 1908:

“Toward noon we saw a man over at camp. I thought it might be one of the carpenters and went over to see what he wanted. Was very much surprised to find it was Charley Furnas from Dayton.”

Uninvited and unannounced, Charley had traveled from Dayton—more than 650 miles—just to be there for the flight. Wilbur didn’t have the funds to pay Charley, but Charley couldn’t have arrived at a time when Wilbur needed more help. Undeterred by the prospect of working for free, Charley was put in charge of the carpenters and laborers rebuilding the Wrights’ camp.

By the end of April, Orville arrived in Kitty Hawk to a scene far less bleak than the one Wilbur had encountered, thanks in large part to Charley’s efforts. Soon, Orville and Wilbur were making solo hops in the Flyer III with a sandbag in the second spot to approximate the extra weight. They had famously vowed never to fly together, in part so that in case of an accident, one of the brothers could continue their experiments and in part to comply with a request from their father, who didn’t want to face the tragedy of two of his sons dying in the same crash.

By mid-May, the Wrights had developed enough confidence in the Flyer III to take up a passenger. They bestowed that honor upon Charley. On May 14, Wilbur took Charley for a flight of about 800 feet. That same day, Orville flew Charley a distance of two miles, making my great-great-great-uncle not only the first airplane passenger, but one of the very few who could claim to have flown with both of the Wright brothers.

Furnas witnessed the 1908 crash in which Thomas Selfridge sustained a fatal skull fracture. The accident apparently ended Furnas’ involvement with aviation. (NASM (95-8453))

Days later, Wilbur headed to France to fly demonstrations for the Wrights’ potential clients, and Orville left for Dayton to prepare for the presentations to the Army, with Charley in tow. In the months between Kitty Hawk and the Signal Corps demonstrations, Charley at last became a full-time employee of the Wrights.

On September 17, 1908, Orville took a young Army lieutenant named Thomas Selfridge as a passenger during a demonstration flight for the Signal Corps at Fort Myer, Virginia. During their fourth lap, an engine malfunctioned, and the flight ended in a dramatic crash landing.

Orville sustained serious injuries, including a broken leg. Selfridge was less fortunate, dying later that evening due to complications from a fractured skull. He was history’s first powered-aviation fatality. Charley was one of the first people to rush out to sort through the damage. He would have seen Selfridge lying prostrate in the wreckage of the Model A, and it probably wouldn’t have been lost on him that only four months earlier, he had occupied the same seat aboard the Flyer III.

After the accident, Charley returned to Dayton and quickly cut professional ties with the Wrights. There’s no record of why he quit perhaps it was the strain of witnessing Selfridge’s death. He returned to West Milton and stayed there for the rest of his life, opening his own garage, getting married, and buying a movie theater that ran early talkies. Although history would seldom recall his name, when Charley passed away, on October 16, 1941, his funeral drew the attendance of at least one famous friend: Orville Wright.

Charley became a footnote in the story of flight, remembered by only the most dedicated early aviation enthusiasts, Wright scholars, and family members. As part of the latter group, I’ve often wondered if his legacy is something that ought to be known to a wider audience. I recently asked my great-uncle Dick about Charley, who was his great uncle. Dick joked that because of the sandbags the Wrights had used to approximate a passenger before Charley’s flight, that Charley was simply offered the honor of being a historic “bag of meat.” There’s a grain of truth in every joke, but I believe there is value in Charley’s story. It reminds us what’s required of pioneers and innovators: a desire to be part of something new that drives them to obstinacy and single-mindedness.

My great-great-great-uncle Charley’s dedication to machines and flying made him give four years to the Navy, and hundreds of hours of unpaid work and hundreds of miles of unpaid travel to the Wrights. Given his obsession with a pursuit that had eluded humankind for centuries, perhaps becoming a literal passenger to history is a fitting legacy.

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This story is a selection from the April/May issue of Air & Space magazine

First Flight Around the World

On April 6, 1924, eight U.S. Army Air Service pilots and mechanics in four airplanes left Seattle, Washington, to carry out the first circumnavigation of the globe by air. They completed the journey 175 days later on September 28, after making 74 stops and covering about 27,550 miles.

The airplanes were named for American cities and carried a flight number: Seattle (1), Chicago (2), Boston (3), and New Orleans (4). They flew over the Pacific, Indian, and Atlantic oceans and encountered climatic extremes from arctic to tropical. Only the Chicago, flown by Lts. Lowell Smith and Leslie Arnold, and the New Orleans, flown by Lts. Erik Nelson and John Harding Jr., completed the entire journey.

The Chicago, Boston II, and New Orleans head toward Mitchel Field, Long Island, outside New York City on September 8, 1924.

To keep their airplanes light enough to get aloft, the fliers could only take 300 pounds of supplies in each plane. They had to make tough decisions about what to include. They did not take parachutes or life preservers.

In Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, the fliers encountered williwaws, or “woolies”—sudden, strong, destructive winds up to 75 miles per hour that rushed down from the mountains. Read how Leslie Arnold described them in his diary.

"The hop from Sitka to Seward was to prove worse than anything we had so far experienced."

Japan, excited about aviation but suspicious of the American military presence, dictated a serpentine route that protected its military secrets. The rivers and harbors of China and Burma proved to be crowded, chaotic havens for the World Flight. The jungles of French Indochina tested the flyers as they raced to make repairs to the Chicago and stay on schedule.

In Saigon, Indochina, the fliers could not get service at a restaurant because they were not wearing jackets. They tried to explain their situation—they could borrow their Navy friends’ shirts and trousers but not their uniform coats. Still, the waiter refused service.

"When we arrived at Paramushiru, it seemed as though we had descended from the clouds into a new world."

"A great roar of “Banzai!” broke from the crowd when the American plane first appeared."

- The Atlantic Constitution

As the World Flight crossed into Europe, ever-larger enthusiastic crowds greeted the fliers.

The flight from Iceland to Greenland tested the pilots’ skill and courage. They encountered heavy fog and had to fly very low and close to the waves. Flying at 90 miles per hour with little visibility, they barely avoided hitting towering icebergs. One of the pilots later admitted he was terrified.

After reaching the United States, the pilots soon became exhausted by the parades, receptions, speeches, and banquets given in their honor. Everyone wanted to see them, including President Calvin Coolidge. Read the secret telegram Coolidge sent to them.

“If our hospitality seems ferocious, forgive us because it comes from the heart. You will find as you proceed along the home stretch that these receptions are the first evidence of the feeling that all Americans long to show you. The world never forgets its pathfinders. Those who trod the wilderness and cross the seas filled with dangers are never forgotten by posterity.”


The idea of transatlantic flight came about with the advent of the hot air balloon. The balloons of the period were inflated with coal gas, a moderate lifting medium compared to hydrogen or helium, but with enough lift to use the winds that would later be known as the Jet Stream. In 1859, John Wise built an enormous aerostat named the Atlantic, intending to cross the Atlantic. The flight lasted less than a day, crash-landing in Henderson, New York. Thaddeus S. C. Lowe prepared a massive balloon of 725,000 cubic feet (20,500 m 3 ) called the City of New York to take off from Philadelphia in 1860, but was interrupted by the onset of the American Civil War in 1861. The first successful transatlantic flight in a balloon was the Double Eagle II from Presque Isle, Maine, to Miserey, near Paris in 1978.

First transatlantic flights Edit

In April 1913 the London newspaper The Daily Mail offered a prize of £10,000 [1] (£470,000 in 2021 [2] ) to

the aviator who shall first cross the Atlantic in an aeroplane in flight from any point in the United States of America, Canada or Newfoundland and any point in Great Britain or Ireland" in 72 continuous hours. [3]

The competition was suspended with the outbreak of World War I in 1914 but reopened after Armistice was declared in 1918. [3] The war saw tremendous advances in aerial capabilities, and a real possibility of transatlantic flight by aircraft emerged.

Between 8 and 31 May 1919, the Curtiss seaplane NC-4 made a crossing of the Atlantic flying from the U.S. to Newfoundland, then to the Azores, and on to mainland Portugal and finally the United Kingdom. The whole journey took 23 days, with six stops along the way. A trail of 53 "station ships" across the Atlantic gave the aircraft points to navigate by. This flight was not eligible for the Daily Mail prize since it took more than 72 consecutive hours and also because more than one aircraft was used in the attempt. [4]

There were four teams competing for the first non-stop flight across the Atlantic. They were Australian pilot Harry Hawker with observer Kenneth Mackenzie-Grieve in a single-engine Sopwith Atlantic Frederick Raynham and C. W. F. Morgan in a Martinsyde the Handley Page Group, led by Mark Kerr and the Vickers entry John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown. Each group had to ship its aircraft to Newfoundland and make a rough field for the takeoff. [5] [6]

Hawker and Mackenzie-Grieve made the first attempt on 18 May, but engine failure brought them down in the ocean where they were rescued. Raynham and Morgan also made an attempt on 18 May but crashed on takeoff due to the high fuel load. The Handley Page team was in the final stages of testing its aircraft for the flight in June, but the Vickers group was ready earlier. [5] [6]

During 14–15 June 1919, the British aviators Alcock and Brown made the first non-stop transatlantic flight. [7] During the War, Alcock resolved to fly the Atlantic, and after the war he approached the Vickers engineering and aviation firm at Weybridge, which had considered entering its Vickers Vimy IV twin-engined bomber in the competition but had not yet found a pilot. Alcock's enthusiasm impressed Vickers's team, and he was appointed as its pilot. Work began on converting the Vimy for the long flight, replacing its bomb racks with extra petrol tanks. [8] Shortly afterwards Brown, who was unemployed, approached Vickers seeking a post and his knowledge of long-distance navigation convinced them to take him on as Alcock's navigator. [9]

Vickers's team quickly assembled its plane and at around 1:45 p.m. on 14 June, while the Handley Page team was conducting yet another test, the Vickers plane took off from Lester's Field, in St John's, Newfoundland. [10]

Alcock and Brown flew the modified Vickers Vimy, powered by two Rolls-Royce Eagle 360 hp engines. [11] It was not an easy flight, with unexpected fog, and a snow storm almost causing the crewmen to crash into the sea. Their altitude varied between sea level and 12,000 feet (3,700 m) and upon takeoff, they carried 865 imperial gallons (3,900 L) of fuel. They made landfall in Clifden, County Galway at 8:40 a.m. on 15 June 1919, not far from their intended landing place, after less than sixteen hours of flying. [10] [12]

The Secretary of State for Air, Winston Churchill, presented Alcock and Brown with the Daily Mail prize for the first crossing of the Atlantic Ocean in "less than 72 consecutive hours". [13] There was a small amount of mail carried on the flight making it also the first transatlantic airmail flight. [14]

The first transatlantic flight by rigid airship, and the first return transatlantic flight, was made just a couple of weeks after the transatlantic flight of Alcock and Brown, on 2 July 1919. Major George Herbert Scott of the Royal Air Force flew the airship R34 with his crew and passengers from RAF East Fortune, Scotland to Mineola, New York (on Long Island), covering a distance of about 3,000 miles (4,800 km) in about four and a half days.

The flight was intended as a testing ground for postwar commercial services by airship (see Imperial Airship Scheme), and it was the first flight to transport paying passengers. The R34 wasn't built as a passenger carrier, so extra accommodations was arranged by slinging hammocks in the keel walkway. The return journey to Pulham in Norfolk, was from 10 to 13 July over some 75 hours.

The first transpolar flight eastbound and the first flight crossing the North Pole ever, was the airship carrying Norwegian explorer and pilot Roald Amundsen on 11 May 1926. He flew with the airship "NORGE" ("Norway") piloted by the Italian colonel Umberto Nobile, non-stop from Svalbard, Norway to Teller, Alaska, USA. The flight lasted for 72 hours.

The first aerial crossing of the South Atlantic was made by the Portuguese naval aviators Gago Coutinho and Sacadura Cabral in 1922. Coutinho and Cabral flew from Lisbon, Portugal, to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in stages, using three different Fairey III biplanes, and they covered a distance of 8,383 kilometres (5,209 mi) between 30 March and 17 June.

The first night-time crossing of the South Atlantic was accomplished during 16–17 April 1927 by the Portuguese aviators Sarmento de Beires, Jorge de Castilho and Manuel Gouveia, flying from the Bijagós Archipelago, Portuguese Guinea, to Fernando de Noronha, Brazil in the Argos, a Dornier Wal flying boat.

In the early morning of 20 May 1927, Charles Lindbergh took off from Roosevelt Field, Mineola, New York, on his successful attempt to fly nonstop from New York to the European continental land mass. Over the next 33.5 hours, Lindbergh and the Spirit of St. Louis encountered many challenges before landing at Le Bourget Airport near Paris, at 10:22 p.m. on 21 May 1927, completing the first solo crossing of the Atlantic.

The first east-west non-stop transatlantic crossing by an aeroplane was made in 1928 by the Bremen, a German Junkers W33 type aircraft, from Baldonnel Airfield in County Dublin, Ireland. [15]

On 18 August 1932 Jim Mollison made the first east-to-west solo trans-Atlantic flight flying from Portmarnock in Ireland to Pennfield, New Brunswick, Canada in a de Havilland Puss Moth. [16]

In 1936 the first woman aviator to cross the Atlantic east to west, and the first person to fly solo from England to North America, was Beryl Markham. She wrote about her adventures in her memoir, West with the Night. [17]

The first transpolar transatlantic (and transcontinental) crossing was the non-stop flight [ru] piloted by the crew led by Valery Chkalov covering some 8,811 kilometres (5,475 mi) over 63 hours from Moscow, Russia to Vancouver, Washington from 18–20 June 1937.

Commercial airship flights Edit

On 11 October 1928, Hugo Eckener, commanding the Graf Zeppelin airship as part of DELAG's operations, began the first non-stop transatlantic passenger flights, leaving Friedrichshafen, Germany, at 07:54 on 11 October 1928, and arriving at NAS Lakehurst, New Jersey, on 15 October.

Thereafter, DELAG used the Graf Zeppelin on regular scheduled passenger flights across the North Atlantic, from Frankfurt-am-Main to Lakehurst. In the summer of 1931 a South Atlantic route was introduced, from Frankfurt and Friedrichshafen to Recife and Rio de Janeiro. Between 1931 and 1937 the Graf Zeppelin crossed the South Atlantic 136 times. [18]

DELAG introduced the Hindenburg, which began passenger flights in 1936 and made 36 Atlantic crossings (North and South). The first passenger trip across the North Atlantic left Friedrichshafen on 6 May with 56 crew and 50 passengers, arriving Lakehurst on 9 May. Fare was $400 one way the ten westward trips that season took 53 to 78 hours and eastward took 43 to 61 hours. The last eastward trip of the year left Lakehurst on 10 October the first North Atlantic trip of 1937 ended in the Hindenburg disaster.

The British rigid airship R100 also made a successful return trip from Cardington to Montreal in July–August 1930, in what was intended to be a proving flight for regularly scheduled passenger services. Following the R101 disaster in October 1930, the British rigid airship program was abandoned and the R100 scrapped, leaving DELAG as the sole remaining operator of transatlantic passenger airship flights.

Commercial aeroplane service attempts Edit

Although Alcock and Brown first flew across the Atlantic in 1919, it took two more decades before commercial flights could become practical. The North Atlantic presented severe challenges for aviators due to weather and the long distances involved, with few stopping points. Initial transatlantic services, therefore, focused on the South Atlantic, where a number of French, German, and Italian airlines offered seaplane service for mail between South America and West Africa in the 1930s.

From February 1934 to August 1939 Lufthansa operated a regular airmail service between Natal, Brazil, and Bathurst, Gambia, continuing via the Canary Islands and Spain to Stuttgart, Germany. [19] From December 1935, Air France opened a regular weekly airmail route between South America and Africa. German airlines, such as Deutsche Luft Hansa, experimented with mail routes over the North Atlantic in the early 1930s, with flying boats and dirigibles.

In the 1930s, a flying boat route was the only practical means of transatlantic air travel, as land-based aircraft lacked sufficient range for the crossing. An agreement between the governments of the US, Britain, Canada, and the Irish Free State in 1935 set aside the Irish town of Foynes, the most westerly port in Ireland, as the terminal for all such services to be established. [20]

Imperial Airways had bought the Short Empire flying boat, primarily for use along the empire routes to Africa, Asia and Australia, but began exploring the possibility of using it for transatlantic flights from 1937. The range of the Short Empire flying boat was less than that of the equivalent US Sikorsky "Clipper" flying boats and as such was initially unable to provide a true trans-Atlantic service. [20]

Two flying boats (Caledonia and Cambria) were lightened and given long range tanks to increase the aircraft's range to 3,300 miles (5,300 km).

In the US, attention was at first focused on transatlantic flight for a faster postal service between Europe and the United States. In 1931 W. Irving Glover, the second assistant postmaster, wrote an article for Popular Mechanics on the challenges and the need for a regular service. [21] In the 1930s, under the direction of Juan Trippe, Pan American began to get interested in the feasibility of a transatlantic passenger service using flying boats.

On 5 July 1937, A.S. Wilcockson flew a Short Empire for Imperial Airways from Foynes to Botwood, Newfoundland and Harold Gray piloted a Sikorsky S-42 for Pan American in the opposite direction. Both flights were a success and both airlines made a series of subsequent proving flights that same year to test out a variety of different weather conditions. Air France also became interested and began experimental flights in 1938. [22]

As the Short Empire only had enough range with enlarged fuel tanks at the expense of passenger room, a number of pioneering experiments were done with the aircraft to work around the problem. It was known that aircraft could maintain flight with a greater load than is possible to take off with, so Major Robert H. Mayo, Technical general manager at Imperial Airways, proposed mounting a small, long-range seaplane on top of a larger carrier aircraft, using the combined power of both to bring the smaller aircraft to operational height, at which time the two aircraft would separate, the carrier aircraft returning to base while the other flew on to its destination. [20]

The Short Mayo Composite project, co-designed by Mayo and Shorts chief designer Arthur Gouge, [23] [24] comprised the Short S.21 Maia, [25] (G-ADHK) which was a variant of the Short "C-Class" Empire flying-boat fitted with a trestle or pylon on the top of the fuselage to support the Short S.20 Mercury(G-ADHJ). [25] [26]

The first successful in-flight separation of the Composite was carried out on 6 February 1938, and the first transatlantic flight was made on 21 July 1938 from Foynes to Boucherville. [27] Mercury, piloted by Captain Don Bennett, [28] separated from her carrier at 8 pm to continue what was to become the first commercial non-stop east-to-west transatlantic flight by a heavier-than-air machine. This initial journey took 20 hrs, 21 min at an average ground speed of 144 miles per hour (232 km/h). [29]

Another technology developed for the purpose of transatlantic commercial flight, was aerial refuelling. Sir Alan Cobham developed the Grappled-line looped-hose system to stimulate the possibility for long-range transoceanic commercial aircraft flights, [30] and publicly demonstrated it for the first time in 1935. In the system the receiver aircraft trailed a steel cable which was then grappled by a line shot from the tanker. The line was then drawn back into the tanker where the receiver's cable was connected to the refueling hose. The receiver could then haul back in its cable bringing the hose to it. Once the hose was connected, the tanker climbed sufficiently above the receiver aircraft to allow the fuel to flow under gravity. [31] [32]

Cobham founded Flight Refuelling Ltd in 1934 and by 1938 had demonstrated the FRL's looped-hose system to refuel the Short Empire flying boat Cambria from an Armstrong Whitworth AW.23. [33] Handley Page Harrows were used in the 1939 trials to aerial refuel the Empire flying boats for regular transatlantic crossings. From 5 August – 1 October 1939, sixteen crossings of the Atlantic were made by Empire flying boats, with 15 crossings using FRL's aerial refueling system. [34] After the 16 crossings more trials were suspended due to the outbreak of World War II. [35]

The Short S.26 was built in 1939 as an enlarged Short Empire, powered by four 1,400 hp (1,044 kW) Bristol Hercules sleeve valve radial engines and designed with the capability of crossing the Atlantic without refuelling. It was intended to form the backbone of Imperial Airways' Empire services. It could fly 6,000 miles (9,700 km) unburdened, or 150 passengers for a "short hop". [36] On 21 July 1939, the first aircraft, (G-AFCI "Golden Hind"), was first flown at Rochester by Shorts' chief test pilot, John Lankester Parker. Although two aircraft were handed over to Imperial Airways for crew training, all three were impressed (along with their crews) into the RAF before they could begin civilian operation with the onset of World War II.

Meanwhile, Pan Am bought nine Boeing 314 Clippers in 1939, a long-range flying boat capable of flying the Atlantic. [37] The "Clippers" were built for "one-class" luxury air travel, a necessity given the long duration of transoceanic flights. The seats could be converted into 36 bunks for overnight accommodation with a cruising speed of only 188 miles per hour (303 km/h). The 314s had a lounge and dining area, and the galleys were crewed by chefs from four-star hotels. Men and women were provided with separate dressing rooms, and white-coated stewards served five and six-course meals with gleaming silver service. [38]

The Yankee Clipper's inaugural trip across the Atlantic was on 24 June 1939. Its route was from Southampton to Port Washington, New York with intermediate stops at Foynes, Ireland, Botwood, Newfoundland, and Shediac, New Brunswick. Its first passenger flight was on 9 July, and this continued only until the onset of the Second World War, less than two months later. The Clipper fleet was then pressed into military service and the flying boats were used for ferrying personnel and equipment to the European and Pacific fronts.

In 1938 a Lufthansa Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor long range airliner flew non-stop from Berlin to New York and returned non-stop as a proving flight for the development of passenger carrying services. This was the first landplane to fulfil this function and marked a departure from the British and American reliance on flying boats for long over-water routes. [39] A regular Lufthansa Transatlantic service was planned but didn't begin until after World War II.

Maturation Edit

It was from the emergency exigencies of World War II that crossing the Atlantic by land-based aircraft became a practical and commonplace possibility. With the Fall of France in June 1940, and the loss of much war materiel on the continent, the need for the British to purchase replacement materiel from the United States was urgent.

The time taken for an aircraft – such as the Lockheed Hudson – bought in the United States, to be flown to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, and then partially dis-assembled before being transported by ship to England, where it was re-assembled and subject to repairs of any damage sustained during shipment, could mean an aircraft could not enter service for several weeks. Further, German U-boats operating in the North Atlantic Ocean made it particularly hazardous for merchant ships between Newfoundland and Britain. [40]

Larger aircraft could be flown directly to the UK and an organization was set up to manage this using civilian pilots. The program was begun by the Ministry of Aircraft Production. Its minister, Lord Beaverbrook a Canadian by origin, reached an agreement with Sir Edward Beatty, a friend and chairman of the Canadian Pacific Railway Company to provide ground facilities and support. Ministry of Aircraft Production would provide civilian crews and management and former RAF officer Don Bennett, a specialist in long distance flying and later Air Vice Marshal and commander of the Pathfinder Force, led the first delivery flight in November 1940. [41]

In 1941, MAP took the operation off CPR to put the whole operation under the Atlantic Ferry Organization ("Atfero") was set up by Morris W. Wilson, a banker in Montreal. Wilson hired civilian pilots to fly the aircraft to the UK. The pilots were then ferried back in converted RAF Liberators. "Atfero hired the pilots, planned the routes, selected the airports [and] set up weather and radiocommunication stations." [42] [43]

The organization was passed to Air Ministry administration though retaining civilian pilots, some of which were Americans, alongside RAF navigators and British radio operators. After completing delivery, crews were flown back to Canada for the next run. [44] RAF Ferry Command was formed on 20 July 1941, by the raising of the RAF Atlantic Ferry Service to Command status. [45] Its commander for its whole existence was Air Chief Marshal Sir Frederick Bowhill. [45]

As its name suggests, the main function of Ferry Command was the ferrying of new aircraft from factory to operational unit. [46] Ferry Command did this over only one area of the world, rather than the more general routes that Transport Command later developed. The Command's operational area was the north Atlantic, and its responsibility was to bring the larger aircraft that had the range to do the trip over the ocean from American and Canadian factories to the RAF home Commands. [46]

With the entry of the United States into the War, the Atlantic Division of the United States Army Air Forces Air Transport Command began similar ferrying services to transport aircraft, supplies and passengers to the British Isles.

By September 1944 British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC), as Imperial Airways had by then become, had made 1,000 transatlantic crossings. [47]

After World War II long runways were available, and North American and European carriers such as Pan Am, TWA, Trans Canada Airlines (TCA), BOAC, and Air France acquired larger piston airliners that could cross the North Atlantic with stops (usually in Gander, Newfoundland and/or Shannon, Ireland). In January 1946 Pan Am's Douglas DC-4 was scheduled New York (La Guardia) to London (Hurn) in 17 hours 40 minutes, five days a week in June 1946 Lockheed L-049 Constellations had brought the eastward time to London Heathrow down to 15 hr 15 min.

To aid aircraft crossing the Atlantic, six nations grouped to divide the Atlantic into ten zones. Each zone had a letter and a vessels station in that zone, providing radio relay, radio navigation beacons, weather reports and rescues if an aircraft went down. The six nations of the group split the cost of these vessels. [48]

The September 1947 ABC Guide shows 27 passenger flights a week west across the North Atlantic to the US and Canada on BOAC and other European airlines and 151 flights every two weeks on Pan Am, AOA, TWA and TCA, 15 flights a week to the Caribbean and South America, plus three a month on Iberia and a Latécoère 631 six-engine flying boat every two weeks to Fort de France.

In May 1952, BOAC was the first airline to introduce a passenger jet, the de Havilland Comet, into airline service, operating on routes in Europe and beyond (but not transatlantic). All Comet 1 aircraft were grounded in April 1954 after four Comets crashed, the last two being BOAC aircraft which suffered catastrophic failure at altitude. Later jet airliners, including the larger and longer-range Comet 4, were designed so that in the event of for example a skin-failure due to cracking the damage would be localized and not catastrophic.

On 4 October 1958, BOAC started the "first-ever transatlantic jet service" between London Heathrow and New York Idlewild with a Comet 4, and Pan Am followed on 26 October with a Boeing 707 service between New York and Paris. [49]

Supersonic flights on the Concorde were offered from 1976 to 2003, from London (by British Airways) and Paris (by Air France) to New York and Washington, and back, with flight times of around three and a half hours one-way. Since the loosening of regulations in the 1970s and 1980s, many airlines now compete across the Atlantic.

Present day Edit

In 2015, 44 million seats were offered on the transatlantic routes, an increase of 6% over the previous year. Of the 67 European airports with links to North America, the busiest was London Heathrow Airport with 231,532 weekly seats, followed by Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport with 129,831, Frankfurt Airport with 115,420, and Amsterdam Airport Schiphol with 79,611. Of the 45 airports in North America, the busiest linked to Europe was New York John F. Kennedy International Airport with 198,442 seats, followed by Toronto Pearson International Airport with 90,982, New York Newark Liberty International Airport with 79,107, and Chicago O'Hare International Airport with 75,391 seats. [50]

Million seats offered [50]
Airline 2005 2015
Delta Air Lines 2.79 5.33 91%
British Airways 4.93 4.85 -2%
United Airlines 2.37 4.78 102%
Lufthansa 2.99 3.80 27%
American Airlines 2.87 2.84 -1%
Air Canada 1.78 2.76 55%
Air France 2.23 2.49 12%
Virgin Atlantic 1.84 2.38 29%
US Airways 1.13 1.75 55%
KLM 1.12 1.45 29%

Joint ventures, allowing coordination on prices, schedules, and strategy, control almost 75% of Transatlantic capacity. They are parallel to airline alliances: British Airways, Iberia and American Airlines are part of Oneworld Lufthansa, Air Canada and United Airlines are members of Star Alliance and Delta Air Lines, Air France, KLM and Alitalia belong to SkyTeam. Low cost carriers are starting to compete on this market, most importantly Norwegian Air Shuttle, WestJet and WOW Air. [51] A total of 431 non-stop routes between North America and Europe were scheduled for summer 2017, up 84 routes from 347 in 2012 – a 24% increase. [52]

In 2016 Dr. Paul Williams of the University of Reading published a scientific study showing that transatlantic flight times are expected to change as the North Atlantic jet stream responds to global warming, with eastbound flights speeding up and westbound flights slowing down. [53]

In February 2017, Norwegian Air International announced it would start transatlantic flights to the United States from the United Kingdom and Ireland in summer 2017 on behalf of its parent company using the parent's new Boeing 737 MAX aircraft expected to be delivered from May 2017. [54] Norwegian Air performed its first transatlantic flight with a Boeing 737-800 on 16 June 2017 between Edinburgh Airport and Stewart Airport, New York. [55] The first transatlantic flight with a 737 MAX was performed on 15 July 2017, with a MAX 8 named Sir Freddie Laker, between Edinburgh Airport in Scotland and Hartford International Airport in the US state of Connecticut, followed by a second rotation from Edinburgh to Stewart Airport, New York. [56]

Long-haul low-cost carriers are emerging on the transatlantic market with 545,000 seats offered over 60 city pairs in September 2017 (a 66% growth over one year), compared to 652,000 seats over 96 pairs for leisure airlines [ definition needed ] and 8,798,000 seats over 357 pairs for mainline carriers. [57] [ dead link ] LCC seat grew to 7.7% of North Atlantic seats in 2018 from 3.0% in 2016, led by Norwegian with 4.8% then WOW air with 1.6% and WestJet with 0.6%, while the three airline alliances dedicated joint ventures seat share is 72.3%, down from 79.8% in 2015. [58] By July 2018, Norwegian became the largest European airline for New York, carrying 1.67 million passengers over a year, beating British Airways's 1.63 million, while the U.S. major carriers combined transported 26.1 million transatlantic passengers. [59]

Unlike over land, transatlantic flights use standardized aircraft routes called North Atlantic Tracks (NATs). These change daily in position (although altitudes are standardized) to compensate for weather—particularly the jet stream tailwinds and headwinds, which may be substantial at cruising altitudes and have a strong influence on trip duration and fuel economy. Eastbound flights generally operate during night-time hours, while westbound flights generally operate during daytime hours, for passenger convenience. The eastbound flow, as it is called, generally makes European landfall from about 0600UT to 0900UT. The westbound flow generally operates within a 1200–1500UT time slot. Restrictions on how far a given aircraft may be from an airport also play a part in determining its route in the past, airliners with three or more engines were not restricted, but a twin-engine airliner was required to stay within a certain distance of airports that could accommodate it (since a single engine failure in a four-engine aircraft is less crippling than a single engine failure in a twin). Modern aircraft with two engines flying transatlantic (the most common models used for transatlantic service being the Airbus A330, Boeing 767, Boeing 777 and Boeing 787) have to be ETOPS certified.

North America-Western Europe [60]
type 1H2006 1H2016
A310/DC10/MD11 3% 1%
A320/B737 1% 1%
A330 16% 26%
A340 10% 6%
A380 3%
B747 15% 9%
B757 6% 9%
B767 28% 19%
B777 21% 20%
B787 6%

Gaps in air traffic control and radar coverage over large stretches of the Earth's oceans, as well as an absence of most types of radio navigation aids, impose a requirement for a high level of autonomy in navigation upon transatlantic flights. Aircraft must include reliable systems that can determine the aircraft's course and position with great accuracy over long distances. In addition to the traditional compass, inertials and satellite navigation systems such as GPS all have their place in transatlantic navigation. Land-based systems such as VOR and DME, because they operate "line of sight", are mostly useless for ocean crossings, except in initial and final legs within about 240 nautical miles (440 km) of those facilities. In the late 1950s and early 1960s an important facility for low-flying aircraft was the Radio Range. Inertial navigation systems became prominent in the 1970s.

Busiest transatlantic routes Edit

The twenty busiest commercial routes between North America and Europe (traffic traveling in both directions) in 2010 were:

Rank North American
1 John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York City, United States Heathrow Airport, London, United Kingdom 2,501,546
2 Los Angeles International Airport, Los Angeles, United States Heathrow Airport, London, United Kingdom 1,388,367
3 John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York City, United States Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris, France 1,159,089
4 O'Hare International Airport Chicago, United States Heathrow Airport, London, United Kingdom 1,110,231
5 Montréal–Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport, Montreal, Canada Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris, France 1,105,007
6 Newark Liberty International Airport, New York City, United States Heathrow Airport, London, United Kingdom 1,065,842
7 Toronto Pearson International Airport, Toronto, Canada Heathrow Airport, London, United Kingdom 926,239
8 O'Hare Airport Chicago, United States Frankfurt Airport, Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany 866,733
9 Logan International Airport, Boston, United States Heathrow Airport, London, United Kingdom 851,728
10 San Francisco International Airport, San Francisco, United States Heathrow Airport, London, United Kingdom 841,549
11 Miami International Airport, Miami, United States Heathrow Airport, London, United Kingdom 795,014
12 John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York City, United States Frankfurt Airport, Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany 710,876
13 John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York City, United States Adolfo Suárez Madrid–Barajas Airport, Madrid, Spain 690,624
14 Washington Dulles International Airport, Washington D.C., United States Frankfurt Airport, Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany 659,532
15 Orlando International Airport, Orlando, United States Gatwick Airport, London, United Kingdom 648,400
16 Detroit Metropolitan Airport, Detroit, United States Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, Amsterdam, Netherlands 613,971
17 John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York City, United States Leonardo da Vinci–Fiumicino Airport, Rome, Italy 563,129
18 Los Angeles International Airport, Los Angeles, United States Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris, France 558,868
19 San Francisco International Airport, San Francisco, United States Frankfurt Airport, Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany 537,888
20 George Bush Intercontinental Airport, Houston, United States Heathrow Airport, London, United Kingdom 528,987

1910s Edit

1920s Edit

1930s Edit

1940s Edit

1950s Edit

1970s Edit

1980s Edit

  • 29 June–1 July 1927: Admiral Richard Byrd with crew flew Fokker F.VIIa/3m America from New York City to France.
  • 13 July 1928: Ludwik Idzikowski and Kazimierz Kubala attempt a crossing of the Atlantic westbound from Paris to the US in an Amiot 123 biplane, but crash in the Azores.
  • 6–9 February 1933. Jim Mollison flew a Puss Moth from Senegal to Brazil, across South Atlantic, becoming the first person to fly solo across the North and South Atlantics.
  • 15–17 July 1933: LithuaniansSteponas Darius and Stasys Girėnas were supposed to make a non-stop flight from New York City via Newfoundland to Kaunas in their aircraft named Lituanica, but crashed in the forests of Germany after 6,411 km of flying, only 650 km short of their final destination after a flying time 37 hours, 11 minutes. They carried the first transatlantic airmail consignment.
  • 10 December 1936: Portuguese-American aviator Joseph Costa took off from the Elmira-Corning Regional Airport in a Lockheed Vega named "Crystal City", attempting to cross the Atlantic and land in Portugal, via Brazil. His plane crashed just before a stopover in Rio de Janeiro, on 15 January 1937.
  • 5 July 1937: Captain Harold Gray of Pan Am flew from Botwood, Newfoundland to Foynes, Ireland, in a Sikorsky S-42 flying boat as part of the first transatlantic commercial passenger test flights. On 6 July 1937, Captain Arthur Wilcockson of Imperial Airways flew from Foynes to Botwood, in a Short Empire class flying boat named Caledonia.
  • 21 July 1938: The Short Mercury flew from Foynes, on the west coast of Ireland, to Boucherville, [74]Montreal, Quebec, Canada, a flight of 2,930 statute miles (4,720 km). The Short Maia, flown by Captain A.S. Wilcockson, took off carrying Mercury (piloted by Captain, later Air Vice MarshalDon Bennett). [N 1]Mercury separated from the carrier aircraft to continue what was to become the first commercial non-stop east-to-west transatlantic flight by a heavier-than-air machine. This initial journey took 20 hrs 21 min at an average ground speed of 144 mph (232 km/h).
  • 10 August 1938: The first non-stop flight from Berlin to New York was with a Focke-Wulf Fw 200 that flew Staaken to Floyd Bennett in 24 hours, 56 minutes and did the return flight three days later in 19 hours, 47 minutes.
  • 2 May 2002: Lindbergh's grandson, Erik Lindbergh, celebrated the 75th anniversary of the pioneering 1927 flight of the Spirit of St. Louis by duplicating the journey in a single engine, two seat Lancair Columbia 200. The younger Lindbergh's solo flight from Republic Airport on Long Island, to Le Bourget Airport in Paris was completed in 17 hours and 7 minutes, or just a little more than half the time of his grandfather's 33.5-hour original flight. [75]
  • 22–23 September 2011: Mike Blyth and Jean d'Assonville flew a Sling 4 prototype Light Sport Aircraft, registration ZU-TAF, non-stop from Cabo Frio International Airport, Brazil to Cape Town International Airport, South Africa, a distance of 6,222 km, in 27 hours. The crew set course for co-ordinates 34°S 31°W to take advantage of the westerly winds and at the turning point proceeded in an easterly direction, roughly following the 35°S parallel. This took them within 140 km north of the most remote inhabited island in the world, Tristan da Cunha. The Cabo Frio/Cape Town leg was part of an around the world flight. [76]

In September 2013, Jonathan Trappe lifted off from Caribou, Maine, United States in an attempt to make the first crossing of the Atlantic Ocean by cluster balloon. [77] The craft is essentially a small yellow lifeboat [78] attached to 370 balloons filled with helium. [79] A short time later, due to difficulty controlling the balloons, Trappe was forced to land near the town of York Harbour, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. [80] Trappe had expected to arrive in Europe sometime between three and six days after liftoff. The craft ascended by the dropping of ballast, and was to drift at an altitude of up to 25,000 ft (7.6 km). It was intended to follow wind currents toward Europe, the intended destination, however, unpredictable wind currents could have forced the craft to North Africa or Norway. To descend, Trappe would have popped or released some of the balloons. [78] The last time the Atlantic was crossed by helium balloon was in 1984 by Colonel Joe Kittinger. [81]

The fastest transatlantic flight was done by a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird from New York to London in 1 hour 55 minutes in 1974. [82] The fastest time for an airliner is 2 hours 53 minutes for JFK–London Heathrow by the Concorde in 1996. [83] The fastest JFK-LHR time for a subsonic airliner is 4 hours 56 minutes by a British Airways Boeing 747-400 in February 2020. [84] The distance JFK-LHR is 5,540 kilometres (3,440 mi).

Yes, the Wright Brothers Really Were the First to Fly

The possibility that someone may have flown a powered airplane before the Wright brothers is back in the news. Over the years a number of candidates have been suggested for first-flight honors. Hiram Maxim, Clement Ader, Karl Jatho, and Augustus Moore Herring, for example, were serious experimenters who bounced for distances of less than 200 feet through the air. Why aren’t any of them credited with having made the first flight? Their machines were not capable of either sustaining themselves in the air or operating under the control of the pilot, both of which are generally regarded as necessary qualifications for a genuine flight.

A handful of flight claims have taken deeper root. Many Brazilians credit Alberto Santos-Dumont, who made the first public flight in Europe three years after the Wrights flew at Kitty Hawk, simply because his aircraft sported wheels, while the Wrights took off from a monorail track. Some New Zealanders argue that Richard Pearse made a powered flight as early as the spring of 1903—months before the Wrights’ first flight on December 17—even though Pearse himself remarked that he had not begun his experiments until 1904, and then only after being inspired by news accounts of the Wright brothers.

That brings us to the claims of Gustave Whitehead, a German immigrant who settled in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where he claimed to have made some spectacular flights. As an aeronautics curator at the National Air and Space Museum and a historian of early flight, I have studied the various accounts championing Whitehead’s assertions. His claims had been rejected and forgotten by 1935, when a researcher found a turn-of-the-century newspaper article on Whitehead’s experiments and decided to take up his cause. Every few decades since then, someone has rediscovered the story and insisted that Whitehead be accorded the honors due him.

The latest round of Whitehead enthusiasm began last March, when the editor of Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft announced that the centennial edition of that reference work would recognize Whitehead’s priority. His decision generated a flurry of news stories and led some popular aviation magazines to express interest in the revised history. The legislature of Connecticut, the would-be aviator’s home state, passed a provision creating a state Powered Flight Day to honor him.

So, what is the evidence for the Whitehead flights?

On August 18, 1901, a Bridgeport newspaper published an article describing a half-mile flight said to have taken place four days earlier. The story was picked up by press associations and spread around the globe in articles based entirely on the original, without adding any new information. James Dickie, the only “witness” named in the original account who could be interviewed, later branded the story a hoax: “I was not present and did not witness any airplane flight on August 14, 1901. I do not remember…ever hearing of a flight with this particular plane or any other that Whitehead ever built.”

In the spring of 1902, Whitehead published an article claiming to have flown seven miles over Long Island Sound. Just days after his article appeared, a Bridgeport paper published a story titled “The Last Flop of the Whitehead Flying Machine,” reporting that Whitehead’s 1901 and 1902 aircraft had both been failures.

Thirty years after the supposed flights, researchers began gathering contradictory witness testimony regarding the old claims. At least one of those witnesses had been paid to remember a flight. Others had offered memories that were demonstrably false. Whitehead supporters swear by those accounts the skeptics dismiss them.

Here is why I am one of the skeptics: There are no original documents supporting the Whitehead claim. Unlike the Wright brothers, the inventor left no letters, diaries, notebooks, calculations, or drawings recording his experiments, his thoughts, or the details of his craft. While there are a handful of photographs of the 1901 machine, there is not a single verifiable photo of the aircraft in which Whitehead claimed to have flown seven miles in 1902. There is no creditable photo of any powered Whitehead aircraft in flight.

Family members reported that they had never seen Whitehead fly. The individuals most closely associated with him, including those funding his effort, universally doubted that he had ever flown. Bostonian Samuel Cabot, who employed Whitehead in 1897, described him as “a pure romancer and a supreme master of the gentle art of lying.” John Dvorak, a Washington University instructor who visited Whitehead in 1904, reported that he “did not meet a single individual who had ever seen Whitehead make a flight.” Stanley Yale Beach, who supported Whitehead’s work for years, agreed: “I do not believe that any of his machines ever left the ground.…”

Step back from the details and consider the subsequent events. Whitehead continued to build powered flying machines under contract for other experimenters as late as 1908 not one of these ever flew. Had the man who claimed to have flown seven miles in 1902 forgotten the secret of flight just six years later? Moreover, not one of those later craft bears any resemblance to his supposedly successful machine of 1901. Why did he abandon a successful design in favor of very different ones?

Yet the Whitehead claim continues to exercise an appeal. People are attracted to the possibility that history may have gotten it wrong—that Shakespeare may not have written the plays, that Bell may not have invented the telephone, that someone might have made a real powered flight before Wilbur and Orville. We should always be open to new evidence that may lead us to rethink events of the past. After seven decades of trying, however, the supporters of Gustave Whitehead have failed to prove their case.

Whitehead supporters have dismissed Smithsonian critics like me as incapable of an unbiased opinion in this case as a result of a 1948 agreement with the heirs of Orville Wright’s estate. The executors of the estate wanted to avoid a repetition of the Smithsonian’s false and ill-advised claims that the failed 1903 Langley Aerodrome had been “capable” of flight before the Wrights, so in the agreement transferring the world’s first airplane to the National Museum, they inserted a statement stipulating that if the Smithsonian ever recognized that a machine was “capable of carrying a man under its own power in controlled flight” before the Wrights, the heirs would have the right to request the return of the historic machine. I regard that clause as a healthy reminder of the bad old days when the Smithsonian misrepresented facts to protect the legacy of its third secretary, Samuel P. Langley. (If you would like to read the entire clause stipulating that the Smithsonian accord the Wright Flyer the claim of first, you can find it on the National Air and Space Museum’s website,

In the most recent controversy over Whitehead’s claims, critics have charged that because of the risk of losing a national treasure, no Smithsonian staff member would entertain the possibility that someone flew before the Wrights. If I were ever convinced that the evidence supported a pre-Wright claimant, I would say so. I can assure you, however, that the evidence would have to be a whole lot more persuasive than anything offered so far by those who believe Gustave Whitehead was the first to fly.

Tom Crouch is the senior aeronautics curator at the National Air and Space Museum.

About Tom Crouch

Tom Crouch is a senior curator in the National Air and Space Museum’s aeronautics department. An historian of early flight, he is the author of The Bishop’s Boys: A Life of Wilbur and Orville Wright.

Watch the video: Orville Wright, Wilbur Wright, Original Footage!!! First Flight Mlitary Airplane 1909