The early days of air travel are incomparable to the advanced technology that aircrafts carry in today’s modern era. Even in the 1900’s, and slow advancements towards better resources, passengers were left with noisy, bumpy, and uncomfortable air travel. This is also largely because planes flew at extremely low altitudes, and rather than above the weather, would fly through such weather. However, a pivotal shift in our modern era of aircraft began with a flight in 1949 of the British-made commercial jetliner known as de Havilland Comet. This four turbine engine aircraft, along with a pressurized cabin, comfortable seating area, and large windows, marked the world’s first commercial jetliner air travel.
Though the comet jetliner was successfully tested in 1949, it carried no passengers until years later. Instead, for the first few years, the aircraft helped to deliver cargo and resources, including those along South American routes. It was not until 1954 that
the world saw the first ever passenger-filled commercial jetliner flight with the debut of the Boeing 707 aircraft. The Boeing 707, known for its narrow body, and touted for its its comfort, speed and safety, the
aircraft ushered in the age of modern jet travel, especially American travel. Its debut made way for commercial carriers to embark in advanced technology, including and more specifically Pan American Airways. Pan American sought the inspiring Boeing 707, and became the first commercial carrier to take delivery of the swept-wing planes, as they launched daily flights from New York to Paris. The Boeing 707 quickly became a symbol, especially for post-war modernity, and the evolution of air travel made an immense mark. Not only would this aircraft symbolize air travel becoming a commonplace, but passengers began to dress up for flights, such as wearing dresses or suits, and flight attendants reflected on the idea of a proper uniform and appearance. In a rather fun fact, this aircraft even went on to inspire legendary singer Frank Sinatra’s worldwide renown song “Come Fly With Me”. In a nutshell, the Boeing 707 would go on to glamorize flying as we know it in today’s day and age.
The Cold War between the United States and the former Soviet Union was a period of time filled with tension between the two, as both were competitive and eager to be better than the other in a political feud. The tension was never more prevalent than in 1957, when the Soviets were earth’s first to launch their artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, into space. This shocked the United States, who presumably thought that they would be the first country to reach this scientific advancement and aviation achievement.
Then, four years after the launch and success of Sputnik 1, the Soviets reached yet another mark, as Russian Lt. Yuri Gagarin became the first human to orbit Earth in Soviet spacecraft, Vostik 1. Gagarin’s flight lasted approximately 108 before reentry into Earth, and it reached an altitude of 327 kilometers (about 202 miles).
The United States, eager in their pursuit to win the “space race” with the Soviets, did not hesitate to respond. Shortly after Gagarin’s space flight, the United States launched their first satellite, Explorer 1, into orbit successfully on January 31st, 1958. Neck and neck with the Soviets, the United States achieved their first mission in 1961, as American Alan Shepard made his way into space, becoming the first American to fly into space.
At this point, it was clear to see that the United States and the Soviet Union were both on a mission to not only explore space, but to become the first to do such. Former United States President, John F. Kennedy, set a national goal in 1961, stating that he would “Land a man on the Moon and return him safely to Earth within a decade”. Although Kennedy would not live to see this day, the goal he set would not fail him, as the United States launched the Apollo 11 mission and sent astronauts Michael Collins, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the moon. Collins was the pilot of the command module known as Columbia, and crew mates Aldrin and Armstrong took “one giant leap for mankind” as they would become the first humans in history to land foot on the moon.
By the early 1970’s, orbiting communications and navigation satellites had quickly become routine in aviation technology, including the Mariner spacecraft that would orbit and map the surface of planet Mars. Moreover, the end of the decade saw spacecraft, the Voyager, capture detailed images of planets Jupiter and Saturn, giving visuals of their rings, features and each of their moons. Space aviation soon became an everyday program, and advanced developments in technology continue to aid in the exploration of space and beyond.
In 1978, flight would officially become electric with the first fly-by-wire aircraft debuted by the U.S Air Force. The U.S Air Force’s F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter plane would operate the fly-by-wire system, replacing its previous manual flight control system, ushering an “Information Age” of navigation, communication, and even automated machinery. Though its original debut was for militarized aircraft, the electric operated aircraft would lead to advanced developments of automated, unmanned aircrafts and flying objects, including drones, nimble missiles and stealth aircraft, all of which continue to be found today.