Early Years of Aviation


First successful flight of the Wright Flyer, by the Wright brothers.

For millennia, mankind has dreamed of leaving the ground to soar among the clouds. One need only look at the mechanical sketches and prototype flying machines of Leonardo da Vinci, or the hot air balloon flights of the Montgolfier brothers to see proof of our desire to fly. However, the rubicon that many aspired to cross was powered, sustained, heavier-than-air flight.

On a blustery December morning in 1903, after many delays and setbacks, Orville Wright became the first man to achieve powered flight in a heavier-than-air flying machine. Orville piloted the Wright Flyer a distance of approximately 120 feet, at an altitude of 10 feet, and a speed of 6.8 miles per hour. This momentous occasion sparked a golden age in aeronautics. The next few years saw a slew of scientists and engineers working to develop their own heavier-than-air flying machines. Many believed that they would be the first in flight, as Scientific American magazine had erroneously reported that, while the Wright brothers possessed extensive theoretical knowledge regarding powered flight, no successful test flight had been made before 19071 . While the title of "first-in-flight" would always belong to the Wright brothers, there is little doubt that the engineers and pilots of the next decade would make great strides in taking to the skies higher, further, and faster than ever before. 

  1. “Capt. Ferber's Aeroplane Experiments.” Scientific American 96, no. 15 (April 13, 1907). https://www.scientificamerican.com/magazine/sa/1907/04-13/.

Early Years of Aviation