Wright Flyer December 17, 1903 left, popular Curtis pusher right

"Please know I am quite aware of the hazards…failure must be a challenge to others." —Amelia Earhart
Century of flying: intrepid people and marvelous machines

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A time line of a century of flight.

List of web sites and some books on flight.

1. Finally, flight: From myths of flying to Alexander's tactics, man carrying kites, and De Vinci’s suggestions, simple balloons, people dreamed of flying. In the late 1800s several people experimented, compared notes, and published books, including Penaud, Horatio Phillips, Otto Lilienthal, and Octave Chanute. The Wright Brothers studied many writings and scientifically experimented to develop controlled, powered flight of heavier-than-air craft.Their sister Katherine was essential. The Wrights evolved their craft. How aircraft can fly and be controlled.
2. From Skimming to Flying: Aircraft at first flew close to the ground as pilots learned the tricks of temperamental machines, while designers like Glenn Curtiss developed easier to handle craft, so pilots flew higher and further. Blériot won the race to cross the English channel. Many experimented with acrobatics. The Séguins invented and manufactured the rotary engine. A week long air show in France in 1909 showed amazing progress, but Glenn Curtiss was the only American to win. Designers like Tommy Sopwith developed new craft as the French and British pioneered new aircraft designs. U.S. fliers used European craft in World War I, after training in the American Curtiss Jenny. Sikorsky's 4-engine plane was the first of several large aircraft that flew in World War I.
3. Individuals soar: World War I produced innovation of aircraft and many skilled pilots, but after the war many jobless. From 1919 to the mid-30s pilots developed barnstorming, sky writing, crop dusting, flying much faster in air races. They flew further to explore both poles from the air, crossing the Atlantic, and circling the world. The Vickers Vimy was favored for distance flight. Many men and women starred. European governments quickly supported scheduled air mail and passenger flights, so built navigation aids. Airlines flew across Europe and to Java, Africa, South America. Later the U. S. Government helped air mail and built navigation aids for foul weather and at night. Instrument flying was pioneered by Sperry and Doolittle.
4. On schedule: Americans began to compete with the all metal Ford Trimotor, craft from Boeing and Lockheed, then Douglas DC-3. Airlines grew as more people flew, general aviation began with Piper and others. Major breakthroughs resulted from 100 octane fuel pioneered by Doolittle that led to more powerful engines. Aircraft began having one wing instead of two, were all-metal with internal strength, retracting gear, and thus much faster. The Stratoliner and Constellation with pressurized cabins flew above most storms.
5. World War II: Again war was the impetus for major improvements in aircraft and pilots, such as the creative innovation in the design of the Spitfire, Corsair, Lightning, and Mustang. Several major air battles caused tactical innovation. For strategic bombing the slower big bombers needed "little friends" as escorts vs. the fast Mossie. What were effects of strategic bombing? Pilots were scared by early brushes with the sound barrier. Transports were critical. Pilots are more important than aircraft: the “Thach weave”, Black Cats, Yeager and Jabara were examples.
6. Safer and faster: The Berlin airlift saved the population of Berlin and the Cold War while jet engines developed. Breaking the sound barrier killed pilots, resulting in the slow process that Yeager and crew used to go supersonic. New radio navigation was developed. Solving why the first jetliner, the Comet, disintegrated at altitude caused changes in construction that yielded safer aircraft so that airlines and air freight carriers become dependable, safer, and faster.
7. The future: New problems are larger transports, terrorism fears and safety, unmanned aircraft. Space flight went to the moon and built an international space station, private space travel, paper airplanes, and who knows what is next.

Copyright © 2004 John F. Yeaman