Apparently we’ve been taking aviation for granted and we need a month dedicated to its history. They say it’s “an indispensable part of modern transportation” but “attracts less popular attention today” than at any time during the last 100-and-more years. Enter The Charles A. and Anne Morrow Lindbergh Foundation, whose offices sit in the foreground of Seattle sunsets over Bainbridge Island. They’ve posted an Aviation History Timeline. It’s worth considering.
To the Lindbergh Foundation, aviation began in 1783 when the French-born Montgolfier brothers built the first lighter-than-air balloon and sent brother Étienne (the youngest of 15 siblings) up for a ride.
“Get in a supply of taffeta cloth and of cordage, quickly, and you will see one of the most astonishing sights in the world,” big brother Joseph told Étienne. Where would the world be without little brothers for test pilots?
So on June 4, 1783, the Montgolfier brothers flew their balloon at its first public demonstration. The flight lasted 10 minutes while tethered around 6,000 feet. Not bad.
By 1900, the German Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin was flying a dirigible airship (long and cylindrical in shape, with a rigid framework). By 1910, Zeppelins were commercial aircraft. But in WWI, Zeppelins were used as bombers and scouts. After the war, they were in daily service between Berlin and Munich. But the heydays for Zeppelins were the 1930s, when the airships Graf Zeppelin and Hindenburg operated regular transatlantic flights from Germany to North America and Brazil. (The art deco spire of the Empire State Building was designed to serve as a mooring mast for airships.) But then there was that Hindenburg disaster in 1937 along with the rise of fixed-wing aircraft.
So let’s get back to 1906 when Orville and Wilbur Wright flew the first successful self-propelled airplane. Things started to happen quickly. By 1909, Louis Bleriot crossed the English Channel. Raymonde de Laroche became the first licensed female pilot in 1913. Salim Ilkucan crossed the Sea of Marmara, Turkey, in 1918 achieving the longest over-sea flight. In 1920, the United States Post Office established airmail service. Bessie Coleman became the first licensed African-American aviator in the world in 1922.
In 1924, Charles Lindbergh bought his first plane (a war-surplus Curtiss Jenny), went barnstorming and enlisted as a U.S. Army Flying cadet. In 1926, the first flight around the world happened while Lindbergh made his first Chicago-to-St. Louis airmail flight.
Then came the feds. In 1927, the Air Commerce Act made the first federal attempt to set safety regulations for civil aeronautics and required the registration and of pilots and planes.
And back came Lindbergh. In 1928, he made the first solo, nonstop transatlantic flight. Three years later, his wife Anne Morrow Lindbergh became the first licensed female glider pilot in the United States.
In 1933, Amelia Earhart became the first female pilot to cross the Atlantic Ocean. In that same year, Boeing built the first of 75 Boeing 247s, an all-metal, twin-engine airplane that was the first modern passenger airliner. It took the 247 “20 hours, with seven stops, to fly between New York and Los Angeles” at 189 mph. Some were still flying in the late 1960s.
After WWII, the sky got a lot busier. Technologies such as long-range missiles, computer systems, electronic controls, combustion chemistry and new composite structures were used by the aerospace industry. In 1953, Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier.
Lindbergh was appointed to rank of brigadier general and awarded the Pulitzer Prize for The Spirit of St. Louis in 1955. Never to be outdone by her husband, Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s book, Gift from the Sea, was published in 1958.
By 1959, we’re talking space travel and the first American satellite to be placed in orbit, “Explorer 1”, is launched. Alan Shepard, in 1966, became the first American in space. Neil Armstrong walked on the moon and (kind of childlike and weirdly sweet) Buzz Aldrin hit a golf ball.
In 1972, a Boeing 747 made its first commercial flight from New York to London. In 1974, NASA announced the shuttle program. And in 1976, Charles Lindbergh died in Maui and was buried at Kipahulu. In 1977, the Concorde took off.
The 1980s and 1990s are best known for Space Shuttle flights. In 2004, there were centennial “Spirit of St. Louis” flights around the country while Burt Ruan and the SpaceShipOne team captured the $10 million X Prize for the first private manned spacecraft to exceed an altitude of 328,000 feet twice within a 14-day period.
And in 2010, Bertrand Piccard and his Solar Impulse team made aviation history by flying more than 24 consecutive hours non-stop in a solar airplane. By 2012, FlyerTalk had more than half-a-million members.
So those are some of the reasons we celebrate Aviation in November.
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