Kitty Hawk to World War II
The Wright brothers near Kitty Hawk, NC.
Although there is some debate about who was the first to fly an airplane, credit for this feat is usually given to Wilbur (1867–1912) and Orville Wright (1871–1948), who made four controlled, sustained flights in a powered heavier-than-air vehicle on Dec. 17, 1903, near Kitty Hawk, N.C. Interestingly, the Wrights never claimed to be the first to fly. The main claim of the Wright brothers, and their supporters, was that they were first to design and build a flying craft that gave the pilot adequate control while in the air. The unique feature of the Wright brothers' aircraft, beginning with their 1902 glider, was the ...view middle of the document...
The apparatus flew only short distances, however, and just two months later it was wrecked when it took a sudden nosedive into the Mediterranean. The first practical seaplane was constructed and flown by Curtiss in 1911, and in 1919 one of Curtiss's “flying boats” made the first transatlantic crossing (with stops). He became one of the most successful American aircraft builders in the decades following the invention of the airplane.
Antoine de Saint Exupery on a 50 franc note. Francs were replaced by Euros in 1999.
The American public may have known airplanes best for their acrobatic flying, or aerobatics, in the years immediately following the Wright brothers' flights because of large cash prizes offered by newspapers. Dubbed the “glorious year of flying,” 1913 was marked by races, competitions, and demonstrations. By flying upside-down and doing loops and other stunts, daredevil pilots proved the maneuverability of airplanes. Pilots also tested the mettle of airplanes in long-distance flights in 1913, including a 4,000-kilometer (2,500-mile) flight from France to Egypt (with stops) and the first nonstop flight from France to Tunisia across the Mediterranean Sea. The end of World War I left a large number of cheap airplanes available for barnstorming and stunt-flying and also for airmail, which was initiated in the mid-1920s. Famous pilots Charles Lindbergh (1902–1974) and Antoine de Saint Exupéry (1900–1944) were among the early airmail fliers.
Early Military Developments
Before 1914 militaries used airplanes mostly for surveying of enemy territory. (In 1913, the U.S. Army had only six active pilots and the fledgling U.S. aeronautical industry had fewer than 170 employees.) As World War I progressed, manufacturers began designing aircraft to carry guns, bombs, and torpedoes. Glenn H. Curtiss, the pioneer of the seaplane, established his own airplane company in 1916 and was a major supplier of aircraft equipment to the U.S. and Allied navies during World War I.
The Fokker Eindecker was a German fighter plane in World War I.
On the other side of the Atlantic, Dutch-born aeronaut Anthony Herman Fokker (1890–1939) produced numerous planes for Germany, including the Fokker Eindecker (monoplane) fighter, which featured a machine gun that could fire through a moving propeller without hitting the blades. In the 1920s, Fokker established an aircraft company in New Jersey and set about designing aircraft for the fledgling U.S. commercial aviation industry. The first nonstop flight across the United States was made in a Fokker T-2 in 1923.
Another important development during World War I was the family of engines known as Liberty engines, which featured interchangeable parts and went on to be used in civilian as well as military applications through World War II and beyond.
Commercial air passenger service began...