100 years today in Aviation History
10 Amazing Milestones in Aviation History
In just a century, powered flight radically transformed everything from family reunions to aerial combat. It is easy to forget how quickly the airplane progressed from the eccentric fantasy of a handful of aviation pioneers to a ubiquitous feature of modern life. Here are some amazing facts and moments that illustrate the supersonic speed of development during the airplane's first century.
1. Sir George Cayley gets the idea
Between 1799 and 1809 English inventor Sir George Cayley created the concept of the modern airplane. Cayley abandoned the ornithopter tradition, in which both lift and thrust are provided by the wings, and designed airplanes with rigid wings to provide lift, and with separate propelling devices to provide thrust.
2. Glider pioneer Otto Lilienthal lifts off
German engineer Otto Lilienthal made his first successful flight in a glider in 1891, making him the first person in history to launch into the air, fly, and land safely. Five years later, after more than 2,000 successful flights, he was killed in a gliding accident. His work inspired two young bicycle builders, Orville and Wilbur Wright, to pursue their own glider and airplane designs.
3. The Wright brothers defy gravity
Orville Wright's historic first airplane flight, on December 17, 1903, lasted just 12 seconds and covered a distance of about 120 feet, a measurement shorter than the wingspan of many modern airliners.
4. U.S. mail rises to the occasion
Airmail service made its debut in 1911, with irregular trips between cities in England. In the United States, airmail became widespread before passenger air travel became popular--by 1935 there were nearly 29,000 miles of regular airmail routes in the United States.
5. Warfare takes to the skies
When World War I began in 1914, military leaders doubted the value of military aviation for purposes other than surveillance. But by the war's end in 1918, airplanes had been used in pivotal bombing missions and aerial combat encounters between "flying aces" such as Manfred von Richthofen (known as the Red Baron) and Eddie Rickenbacker.
6. The jet engine propels commercial aviation to new heights
Although commercial aviation began in January 1914 with a route between Saint Petersburg and Tampa, Florida, it did not take off in the United States until after World War II. The jet engine, a wartime technological advancement, debuted in commercial aviation in 1952. It hit the big time in 1958, when Pan Am inaugurated Boeing 707 jet service and cut flight durations in half.
7. Chuck Yeager breaks the sound barrier
Until Chuck Yeager became the first pilot to exceed the speed of sound in 1947, nobody knew whether a pilot could successfully control a plane under the battering effects of the shock waves produced as the plane's speed neared Mach 1.
8. Supersonic flight goes up for sale
In 1976 the Concorde, the first commercial aircraft designed to exceed the speed of sound, embarked on simultaneous inaugural flights from Paris and London. The luxury aircraft crossed the Atlantic in three hours, enabling passengers from Europe to beat the time difference and land in New York City before they left London or Paris.
9. Passenger counts top 1 billion
In 1987, for the first time, airplanes carried more than 1 billion passengers worldwide. By century's end more than 1.5 billion passengers flew annually. In 2002 Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport ranked as the world's busiest airport, with nearly 77 million passengers handled--that's more than 210 thousand passengers per day.
10. Terror quiets the skies
When all flights over the United States were grounded for about one day following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, U.S. skies were free of aircraft for the first time in nearly a century.