Thousands of people have contributed to Aviation. Dreams by the Wright Bothers made flight possible for all of us. Others like Emelia Earhardt, and Charles Linburg stretched the limits to accomplish what had never been done before. Many have even given their life to be in the air. I will discuss some of the paramount events and people that helped transcend Aviation.
The most appropriate place to start is on the Seventeenth of December in 1903, the brothers Orville and Wilber Wright flew the first powered aircraft a total of 120 feet in 12 seconds. Wilber the eldest, and younger brother Orville always were fascinated by flight. During their childhood, gliders and balloons were being used. Painstaking efforts were made by them later in life to create an efficiently powered craft. They had used aerodynamics tables set forth by Langley to test their own gliders. They found that the tables didn’t provide enough lift to get hardly anything off the ground. So they set out to forge their own tables by expereimenting with two-hundred different wing designs in a home-made wind tunnel. They invalidated Langley’s aerodynamics tables. From there with the help of mechanic Charles Taylor, they were able to design an engine light and yet powerful enough to propell a small craft. The powerplant on the “Flyer 1″ weighed 170 lbs. and operated with 12hp at 1200rpm. With this design they made aviation history as described above. Later on that day though, Wilber soloed a flight of 152 feet in 59 seconds. After hundreds of successful flights and little attention, the military took an interest in their progress. They designed the first plane that could turn, bank, and do figure eights for one-half an hour. They named thier creation the Flyer III. The Wright’s flying machine recieved a patent on March 22nd, 1906. One year after that in 1907, the foundation of the Aeronautical Experimental Association(FEA, now the FAA) was founded.
The first person to die in an airplane crash was Lt. Thomas E. Selfridge. He was flying with Orville in 1908. No wonder Orville was the 4th person in history to get a pilot certificate: the 3rd was Lousis Paulhan, 2nd was Frank Lham, and the first was Glen Curtiss. The first pilot to be killed was Eug ne Lef bvre in France, on Sept 7, 1909.
Calbreth Perry Rodgers bought the first Wright airplane. Rodgers recieved 90 minutes of flight instruction from Wilber. After his ample flight school, Rodgers accepted the challeng of flying across the United States for a prize of $50,000 (if he could do it in thirty days) offered by a publisher. He got a soft drink maker to sponser him, and thus the flight of Vin Fiz(name of the soda) got off the ground. He started in New York, and soon ran into a lot of trouble. He crashed somewhere between 20 and 36 times. His sponsor fixed him up though. It took the persistant and constantly bandaged Rodgers 49 days to get to Pasadena; funny only 82 hours and 4 minutes were spent in the air. Luckly Rodger’s 51mph crashes didn’t kill him.
Amelia Aerhart is another notable person that sacrificed herself for the furtherance of air transportation. She was the first woman to cross the Atlantic-from Newfoundland to North Ireland, 2,026 miles. She did it in 1932. But this wasn’t enough. In 1937 she wanted to circle the globe at the equator. Unfortunately she missed the tiny Howeland Island in the pacific and was never seen again.
Other essential people in aviation include Glen Curtiss, Charles Lindbergh, and Ilray Jeppeson. Glen Curtiss flew from Albany to New York in 1910, which crushed the previous distance record of 24 miles. His flight amounted to 143 total miles. Curtiss was also a pioneer in early engines. Charles Lindbergh is credited for the first flight across the Atlantic from New York to Paris. His flight on the 20th of May, 1927 took him an amazing 33 hours and 20 minutes. His plane “The Spirit of Saint Louis” traveled 3,610 miles. Lindbergh thrilled everyone in the states and convinced people that airplanes were’nt just for barnstorming shows. They could be used for the transportation of mail, cargo, and even people. This was all a fairly new concept. Ilray Jeppeson was a pioneer in the area of flight navigation. In the 1920’s he was an air mail pilot who methodicly charted and mapped reference points and hazards. Soon his fellow employees wanted copies, and the business was born. Later he provided navigation charts and maps to almost every major airport in the world. Finally, I will mention a critical flight made by Louis Bleriot across the English Channel. Bleriot was a mechanical tinkerer. Kind of like Bell’s father in Beauty and the Beast. Bleriot was in the headlight business but sought to build an airplane. He accomplished this when he engineered the Model XI monoplane in 1909. With predictable blundering style, he finished the 22 mile stretch across the channel by crashing his overheated craft near Dover Castle. He captured the imaginations of all who heard about it.
I did plan on going into great detail about the developments in air foils and aerodynamics. But I’ve decided its just too complicated. I will go over some key improvemnets on airfoils through the years. We all understand the concept of Bernouli’s Principle whre the air traveling over the top of the foil will be accellerated because its slightly longer, and thus pressure is decreased. The unchanged velocity of the air traveling beneath the foil consists of a higher pressure that pushes the air foil up. This concept isn’t totally true. Research indicates that air that is seperated doesn’t meet at the trailing edge simotaneously like once thought. So, basicly we really don’t know how it works, we just discovered the airfoil through trial and error. And from there we tweaked it to get the desired effect. Newton helped us to see the four forces acting on an airplane in flight: lift, thrust, weight, and drag. Thus we have done much research concerning how to decrease drag. In WWII the Germans came up with the swept wing design. So instead of the body and wings coming together at near perpendicular angles, they are swept back like in the shape of an arrow. This reduces, or more accurately delays drag. Thus higher speeds can be obtained. Lastly, another important devolopment in earodynamics is the laminar air foil. A regular air foil will have eddies of air bounceing off the surface of the wing. But a laminar air foil will keep the air flow smooth over the top of the wing and hence a reduction in drag is accomplished.
Now, I can describe a few of the countless changes aviation powerplants have gone through. The father of aircraft engines is known as Glen Curtiss. He began by making two cylinder engines for motorcycles, and in 1906 was looking to sell his engines for aircraft. From what I’ve read he wasn’t a savvy salesman. Once he put his engine in the “June Bug” and flew an astounding 1 kilometer, later he worked with the Navy in designing sea planes. Some time after the Curtis the Conquerer engines, the Clerget came into use. It had 1200hp. In 1937, Daimler-Benz came out with their DB-601. It had twelve cylinders, was liquid cooled, and produced 1,475hp. During this era, Pratt and Whitney, Lycoming, and Wright Aeronautical all contributed to the advancemnet of the recipricating and radial engines. In the early 1940’s the industry came out with turbojets, turboprops, and the turbofan engine designs. Turbofans were important to the industry, so were jet engines. These two types of engines made super sonic flight possible, and not to mention a fast, efficient, and safe way to travel.
There are too many people and developments that contributed to aviation as we know it today. I tried in vain to capture the most important events in the industry since it’s birth 97 years ago. Im sure I missed much. Aviation has become a part of everyone’s lives. We depend on it for commerce and enjoyment. The industry will continue to prosper, and improve.
Jeppesen Private Pilot Manual Copyright 1998,1999