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You are here : home > Kidcentric > Learning > The History of Aviation

The History of Aviation

Man has always looked to the skies, seeking to expand his horizons. Here is a look at the evolution of modern aviation.

Man has always looked to the skies, seeking to expand his horizons and escape the shackles that bind him to earth. When we think of the first flight, we remember the story of Icarus and his attempt to build wax wings to fly away from imprisonment on the island of Crete where he and his father were imprisoned. The story is important because the early attempts at flight often tried to mimic birds and their way of flying.

The First Flight

The first practical success in sustained flight was the Montgolfier brothers and their balloon. The first flight of their balloon was on June 4th, 1783. The first manned flight however was in October of the same year. Balloons became the first viable form of air travel. During the 1800s, a number of inventors started work on the invention of the airships or dirigibles. In 1852, Frenchman Henri Giffard succeeded in flying 24 kilometres with a steam engine driven craft.

The difference between balloons and aircraft is that balloons work on a lighter than air principle of flight while aircraft work on heavier than air principle of flight.

The 1900s saw the controlled flight being popularised. The first two main contributors to this were Alberto Santos Dumont and Count Ferdinand Von Zeppelin. Santos is noted for his construction of a non-rigid airship that he flew around the Eiffel Tower in October 1901. Zeppelin, on the other hand, made advances in building rigid airships and constructed and flew the first Zeppelin in 1900.

The Wright Way to Get it Done!

The first workable glider was built in 1804 by Sir George Cayley. It was only during the 1900s that the Wright Brothers started their experiments with un-powered glider flights. The Wright brothers are known to have built a number of un-powered gliders until their triumphant first powered flight at Kitty Hawk in North Carolina on December 17th, 1903.

The Wright brothers had a scientific and persistent approach to their aircraft design and constructed a wind tunnel to test their designs. Their focus was on the safety of the pilot attempting the flight. Later, in 1908, the Wright Brothers went on to make the first powered flight with two persons on the aircraft.

War in the Air

Humankind has been able to pervert his inventions for destructive purposes and the aircraft is by no means an exception. Aircrafts were used for warfare starting from World War I. One of the most notable aircrafts of that era was the Sopwith Camel. Though difficult to handle, it is credited with the most amount of aerial victories during the war. Initially, aircrafts were used for reconnaissance (spying by flying over enemy territory to gather information) and later on, as two-seat designs became feasible, aircrafts started to have rear mounted guns. This was the age of in-flight duelling between aces on both the Axis and Allied sides such as Manfred von Richthofen (Red Barron) and Eddie Rickenbacker.

Post-War Developments

It was during the period after World War I (1918—1939) that major advances in aircraft technology were made. Aircraft frames started to be manufactured in aluminium, a departure from the earlier wood and canvas versions. Rotary and radial air-cooled engines were invented. It was during this time that Charles Lindbergh made his historic solo flight across the Atlantic. By 1937, with the Hindenberg disaster, the popularity of airships came to an end. By the end of the World War II, commercial air travel started in earnest. Wartime bombers were converted into civil transport aircraft.

Records in the Air

Since the time we took to the skies, the quest has been to go higher and cover longer distances. In 1909, Louis Bleriot was the first person to fly an aircraft across the English Channel, from Calais to Dover. The flight lasted 37 minutes.

We always strive to set and break records. This has included trying to set the record for breaking the sound barrier, which was achieved by the Bell X1 on October 14, 1947. The size of the aircraft has constantly been increasing. World War II saw the invention of the Super Fortress class of bombers, which is infamous for having dropped the atomic bomb. During the Cold War, a larger Strato Fortress aircraft was developed to drop nuclear warheads. Today, further advancement in the field of aviation technology has once again broken the size barrier allowing aviation engineers to invent the world's first double-decker aircraft—the Airbus A380. Improvements in aircraft design ensure that travel is not only more comfortable but more eco-friendly as well.

Flight to the Future

Humankind has come a long way since its initial foray into flight. Yet the ability to touch the skies has not ended our quest to rise to new heights. In 1961, we moved beyond the skies as Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space. Today the quest is no longer space but to have longer and more sustained space flights, perhaps even beyond the moon!

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