The word ‘aviation’ (the art or act of flying) was coined in 1863 by the French aviation pioneer Guillaume Joseph Gabriel de La Landelle in “Aviation ou Navigation aérienne.” It derives from the Latin avis meaning bird.
The history of aviation can be said to begin with the use of kites by the Chinese as early as 200 BC. Although unmanned hot air balloons were popular with the Chinese around the same time, it was not until the eighteenth century that humans took to the air based on pioneering work of the Montgolfier brothers. This first ever untethered manned hot air balloon flight took place on 21 November 1783 when Pilâtre de Rozier and François Laurent d’Arlandes flew from Paris in one created out of paper-lined cloth.
The availability of hydrogen or helium enabled the creation of lighter-than-air airships in the early twentieth century, as exemplified by large passenger-carrying Zeppelins which in early incarnations became strategic bombers during the first world war. Their demise accelerated with the destruction of the hydrogen-inflated Hindenburg on 6 May 1937, when it burst into flames while landing at Lakehurst, New Jersey. However, helium-based airships continue to be considered for such uses as communications, surveillance and logistics as they offer a zero-carbon solution in these areas.
This technology was soon overtaken by the development of heavier-than-air aircraft as pioneered by the Wright Brothers who built on their experience flying gliders. The first crewed flight took place on 17 December 1903 at Kitty Hawk, a beach town in North Carolina. The first of four flights that day lasted just 12 seconds and travelled only 180 feet. Parts for the plane’s aluminium alloy engine were cast at Buckeye Iron and Brass Works with their mechanic Charlie Taylor building the new design. Having no throttle, the motor only ran at full speed, tuned with a lever that adjusted the camshaft timing.
Conflict and war between nations is always a driver for technological developments. This coupled with commercial competition has brought us to where the aviation industry is today, heavily reliant on digital technology and new and innovative materials of construction. Interestingly there has been a move back to unmanned flight with the use of drones for a widening range of applications such as aerial photography, goods transport and warfare.
For this topic of aviation I’ll be including some posts relating to aircraft of particular interest to me.