Orville and Wilbur Wright stepped forward to be counted in the history of flight… or should I say powered flight. They spent three years testing their designs on gliders, and how to control them at their base at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.
By 1902 they had perfected their glider shape, and by 1903 perfected a twelve horsepower engine.
On the 17th December 1903 at 10.35 am in North Carolina the “Flyer” took to the air, and they proved flight was possible, but it suffered from teething problems. On the 5th October 1905 the “Flyer III” flew for 39 minutes piloted by Wilbur Wright at Huffman Prairie, covering some 24 miles. History had been made… man could indeed fly.
Thanks to the Wright brothers, with their perfectly designed aircraft, powered by their own twelve horsepower water-cooled, four-cylinder engine, none of this would have been possible. They proved without doubt, that powered flight was indeed possible, and they had opened the way for a new era in flight.
On the 18th March and 19th March 1906 Traian Vuia flew his self-designed self-propelled fixed-wing aircraft in France. On the 12th September 1906 Jacob Ellehammer flew his monoplane in Denmark and on the 13th September 1306 Alberto Santos-Dumont made a flight in Paris, and on the 12the November set the first world record.
In 1908 Wilbur Wright gave flight demonstrations in France, attracting thousands, showing why the Wright brothers were superior in the air.
Louis Bleriot (1872-1936) a former engineer, who in 1900 turned his attention to flight. On the 25th July 1909 Louis Bleriot won fame for his solo flight across the English Channel, taking 36 mins travelling at an average speed of 40mph.
It didn’t take long before the military could see practical uses for these flying machines in battle. The leading manufacturers of fighter planes were, Britain, France, Germany and Italy, whose planes saw action in World War One (1914-1918).
The new era between the first and second world war saw young fighter pilots eager to show off their skills, in county air shows, and air races like the “Schneider Trophy.”
In 1924 Imperial Airways offered passenger flights to exotic destinations, and in 1927 Pan-Am offered non-stop luxury trips.
In 1927 aviation pioneer Charles Lindbergh made history, flying “The Spirit of St.Louis” across the Atlantic Ocean; New York to Paris in 33 hours and 30 minutes non-stop.
In 1935 Howard Hughes designed and built the “H-1” racer. With him at the controls, his plane became the fastest plane beatinf all speed records.
On the 5th March 1936 the Spitfire underwent its maiden flight and entered service with the Royal Air Force (1938-1955). She was joined by other planes Bristol Blenheim (1937) Mosquito (1941) Lancaster (1942) Gloster Meteor (1944) and of course the Americans B-17 Flying Fortress (1940), just to name a few.
World War Two saw the need for fighter escorts in the shape of Heinkel HE178 (1939) Heinkel HE219 (1943) and Messerschmitt ME262 (1944) to accompany Junkers JU88 (1940) and the JU388 (1944) German Bomber planes during strategic bombing raids on English soil.
Other names go down in history for their achievements in the world of flight. Amelia Mary Earhart who in 1928, joined an expedition to fly across the Atlantic Ocean with Wilmer “Bill” Stultz (pilot) and Louis E “Slim” Gordon ( co-pilot and mechanic). They left Trepassey Harbour, Newfoundland in a Fokker F7 on June 17 1928, and arrived at Burry Port, Wales 21 hours later. Their landmark flight made headline news.
From then on, Earhart’s life revolved around flying. She came third in the Cleveland’s Women’s Air Derby.
President Herbert Hoover awarded her a gold medal from the National Geographical Society, and Congress awarded her a Distinguished Flying Cross for her achievement.
In the years that followed, Earhart continued to break records, one after another… On 11th January 1935, she flew solo across the Pacific Ocean from Honolulu to Oakland, California. Later that year, first to solo from Mexico City to Newark.
In 1946 after World War Two the “Bell X-1” was the first plane capable of breaking the speed record by breaking the sound barrier.
In 1957 the “Boeing 707” came into service described as sleek, fast and fuel-efficient.
With speeds getting faster and faster, the safety of the pilot became an issue in planes built for combat. In 1958 ejection seats were fitted, which thrust pilots vertically clear of the plane in seconds.
In 1966 “The Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird” came into military use reaching speeds three times the speeds of sound at heights of 100,000 feet.
In 1969 the “Boeing 747” came into service capable of carrying a little over four-hundred passengers, giving the air industry what they wanted, the ability to move large numbers in a single flight.
The first test flight of Concorde 001 took place on the 2nd March 1969 from Toulouse, and supersonic flight commenced on the 1st October 1969, with scheduled flights starting on 21st January 1976 with the London to Bahrain and Paris to Rio routes.
In May 1976, London to Washington, then in 1977 Paris and London to New York in less than 3½ hours.
Concorde went on to make history by circumnavigating the world in thirty-one hours and fifty-one minutes, starting out on 1st November 1986.
In May of 1987, a 19 year-old German pilot; Mathias Rust, flew solo in his Cessna from Helsinki in Finland, eastwards to Moscow in Russia. He eluded Russia’s Soviet Air-Defence System and landed alongside Lenin’s Mausoleum in Red Square.