110 years ago, the Wrights took to the air on December 17, 1903, making two flights each from level ground into a freezing headwind gusting to 27 miles per hour (43 km/h). The first flight, by Orville, of 120 feet (37 m) in 12 seconds, at a speed of only 6.8 miles per hour (10.9 km/h) over the ground, was recorded in a famous photograph. The next two flights covered approximately 175 feet (53 m) and 200 feet (61 m), by Wilbur and Orville respectively. Their altitude was about 10 feet (3.0 m) above the ground.
The following is Orville Wright’s account of the final flight of the day:
Wilbur started the fourth and last flight at just about 12 o’clock. The first few hundred feet were up and down, as before, but by the time three hundred ft had been covered, the machine was under much better control. The course for the next four or five hundred feet had but little undulation. However, when out about eight hundred feet the machine began pitching again, and, in one of its darts downward, struck the ground. The distance over the ground was measured to be 852 feet; the time of the flight was 59 seconds. The frame supporting the front rudder was badly broken, but the main part of the machine was not injured at all. We estimated that the machine could be put in condition for flight again in about a day or two.
The original Wright brother’s plane is in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. They have changed out the cloth of the wings and body. However, the original cloth is also at the museum. It is a beautiful piece of technology.
Montgolfier Brothers and the first manned hot air balloon
Joseph-Michel Montgolfier and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier were the inventors of the Montgolfière-style hot air balloon, globe aérostatique. The brothers succeeded in launching the first manned ascent, carrying Étienne into the sky on October 15, 1783.
Some claim that the hot air balloon was invented some 74 years earlier by the Brazilian Portuguese priest Bartolomeu de Gusmão. A description of his invention was published in 1709 in Vienna, and another one that was lost was found in the Vatican in about 1917. However, this claim is not generally recognized by aviation historians outside the Portuguese-speaking community.
By the time of the American Civil War (1861-1865), the lighter-than-air crafts were still unsteerable. However, they quickly proved to be an invaluable military asset. In a tethered balloon several hundred feet in the air, a military scout could survey the battlefield or reconnoiter an enemy’s position.
Powered Lighter than Air – Zeppelins
Count Zeppelin had been inspired to create lighter-than-air crafts for military purposes. As early as 1909, Count Zeppelin founded the German Airship Transport Company (Deutsche Luftschiffahrts-Aktien-Gesellschaft — DELAG). Between 1911 and 1914, DELAG carried 34,028 passengers. Considering that Count Zeppelin’s first lighter-than-air craft had flown in 1900, air travel had quickly become popular.
1915 a big year of Military firsts in Aviation
Airplanes became an important part of World War I.
First aerial victory for a fighter aircraft armed with a forward-firing synchronized machine gun: Leutnant Kurt Wintgens of the Luftstreitkräfte, flying a production prototype (M.5K/MG) of the Fokker E.I Eindecker, downed a French Morane-Saulnier L “Parasol” near Luneville, France, on July 1, 1915
First aerial torpedo attack on a ship: Charles Edmonds, flying a Short 184, torpedoed and sunk a Turkish supply ship in the Sea of Marmara on August 12, 1915. The ship was abandoned, having been crippled by a British submarine four days earlier.
First combat search and rescue by airplane: Richard Bell-Davies rescued a comrade who had been shot down in Bulgaria on November 19, 1915.
First medical evacuation (medevac) by air: Louis Paulhan evacuated the seriously ill Milan Stefanik from the Serbian front in 1915.