The story of flight
From man's first flight on Earth to outer space, this is the history – and future – of aviation.
We bet that when Orville and Wilbur Wright were trying to persuade their peers that it was safe for humans to take to the skies, they never imagined that 58 years later, man would be heading into space. Now, another 58 years later, commercial space flights are the norm. But before we look to the future, let's go right back to the start of aviation.
The launch of flight
There are numerous legends of men who strapped feathers to themselves in some shape or form, which all demonstrate man’s fascination with the skies – Icarus being the most famous of them. However, the earliest – proven – examples of man-made flight are kite flying in China, followed by hot-air balloons and the like in 1783. But no matter how much we advanced in ballooning and how many birds we studied, humans still struggled to defy gravity… until the 19th century, that is.
The father of the aeroplane
The Wright Brothers may be known for being the first to get themselves into the air, but it was thanks to the concept of gliders that this was possible at all. And the glider was invented by Sir George Cayley in 1846. Sir Cayley made it his mission to study the science and principles of flight and in, in 1848, he managed to construct a glider that was large enough to hold a small boy.
The aeronautical age
The 19th century continued to see many scientists, philosophers and inventors try to perfect the art of flying. In 1866, the Aeronautical Society of Great Britain was founded and in 1868, the first aeronautical exhibition was held in London. That same year, John Stringfellow achieved the first powered flight. But the Brits weren’t the only ones keen to explore. The French and Americans were hot on their heels, and it was the Americans who got their first.
The Wright Brothers' First Flight
It's generally accepted that Orville and Wilbur Wright invented the first successful aeroplane. On 17 December 1903, they made the first controlled, sustained flight of a powered, heavier-than-air aircraft. The flight was only 37 metres into the air for only 12 seconds at 10.9km/h. By 1911, however, the brothers had improved their aircraft, and on 24 October, Orville soared for nine minutes and 45 seconds – a record that held for almost 10 years.
The first scheduled passenger airline service took off on New Year's Day in 1914. It operated between St Petersburg and Tampa, Florida, for only four months. The pilot was Tony Jannus and the first paying customer was Abram C Pheil, the former mayor of St Petersburg. They flew in an airboat, which was designed by Thomas Benoist. The airboat weight 567 kilograms, was 8 metres long and seated only two people.
After World War II, commercial aviation soared when ex-military craft were used to transport people and cargo. The de Havilland DH 106 Comet became the first commercial jet airliner in 1952. Within a year, though, the aircraft was experiencing problems. But within that period, other aeroplanes had been created, and on 15 September 1956, the USSR's Aeroflot became the first airline in the world to offer regular services.
Travelling by aeroplane is now the norm and according to Flightrader24, which has been tracking flights since 2006, the 24th of July 2019 was the busiest day in aviation, with more 225,000 flights recorded that day.
But humankind has never been content with what's in front of us, and flying around the world wasn't enough to satisfy us. In fact, just five years after Aeroflot launched, we were heading to outer space. In 1961, Russian-born Yuri Gagarin orbited once around the planet in 108 minutes. The stage was set for the US and the Soviet Union to battle it out for control of space, and in 1969, the Americans became the first to put a man (Neil Armstrong) on the Moon. Fifty years later, we're determined that space tourism will become a reality. And as planet Earth's resources are placed under more and more pressure, many people are becoming convinced that our future lies in space. Originally, Richard Branson had planned for Virgin Galactic to take its first maiden flight in 2009, but due to various delays, the project's first suborbital space flight was only in December 2018. In February 2019, a third person joined as a passenger. And if everything goes according to plan, the Virgin Galactic's should be running test flights next year.
If the idea of being able to tour space fascinates you, check out which apps and Instagram accounts you should follow to stay up to date with all things celestial.