The 20th century would presumably become the most monumental in the history of aviation. In 1903, two brothers would make their way to the skies and the history books, as the first controlled, sustained flight of a heavier-than-air aircraft is born. With the previous innovation of a lighter, more efficient gas-powered combustion engine devised by German engineer Nikolaus Otto, brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright would use this in their flight of their wooden aircraft. Known as the “Wright Flyer”, the brothers would operate their gasoline powered propeller biplane twice (four flights total) from North Carolina, with the longest of the flights’ sustaining about 59 seconds. Though originally ignored by newspaper critics as being “too short” to make history, this feat would become known to mankind as the first- sustainable human flight ever.
Shortly after in 1907, the first helicopter lifted off thanks to Frenchman and bicycle maker Paul Cornu. Although previous versions of a helicopter were toyed with in the previous years leading up to Cornu’s flight, he would become the definitive first, with his helicopter lifting about 1.5 meters off the ground for 20 seconds near Lisieux, France.
In 1911, Harriet Quimby became the first American woman ever awarded a pilot’s license, making way for future women to take on aviation. With her charisma and passion, Quimby would accomplish yet another feat a year later, as she became the first woman to fly solo across the English Channel.
In October of 1911, the Turkish-Italian war made way for the first militarized aircraft. Introduced by Italy during the war, the country employed monoplanes and airships used for bombing, reconnaissance, and transportation of military supplies and personnel. Aircraft would quickly expand shortly after, and play a decisive role in future wars including both World War I and World War II.
On New Years Day, 1914, pilot Tony Jannus transported a single passenger, Mayor Abe Pheil of St. Petersburg, Florida, across the Tampa Bay region, making it the first commercial passenger flight in history. The 23-mile flight from his airboat known as the “St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line” had only cost $5.00 and laid the foundation for the commercial airline industry worldwide.
Flying a modified bomber from the Great War, British aviators John Alcock and Arthur
Brown made the first-ever nonstop transatlantic flight in June of 1919. Starting in St. John’s newfoundland, the journey would surpass roughly 16 hours of flight time, and eventually landed in County Galway, Ireland. Approximately a decade after Alcock and Brown, then 25-year-old Charles Lindbergh of Michigan took flight to successfully complete the first solo crossing over the transatlantic. The aircraft, named “Lucky Lindy” would voyage from New York, United States to Paris, France, marking it also as the first longest transatlantic flight by more than 2,000 miles. Moreover, since accomplishing a monumental feat, Lindbergh would earn a Medal of Honor for his solo flight and helped usher a new era into the world of possibilities with aviation.
On May 20th just five years after Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, from Harbour Grace, Newfoundland, to later land in Culmore, Northern Ireland. Landing after roughly 14 hours of flight time, Earhart’s journey
would go on to make her a known celebrity and historical figure in aviation. She set several women’s speed, domestic distance, and transcontinental aviation records. However, her most memorable feat would become her last, as she attempted to circumnavigate the globe in aircraft in 1937, but disappeared somewhere over the Central Pacific and was never seen or heard from again. Although tragic, Earhart’s attempt was never forgotten and she became known in aviation as a true leader in her own right.
After World War II came to end, former ace combat fighter Chuck Yeager, earned the title “Fastest Man Alive” as he hit 700 m.p.h while experimenting an X-1 supersonic rocket jet for military purposes over the Mojave Desert in 1947. With this speed, Yeager broke the sound barrier, as he factually traveled faster the known speed of sound! Stay tuned for Chapter 3 in our series.