Transport Heroes: The Pioneers of Aviation
The history of aviation involves the onset of mechanical flight. These developments comprise some of the earliest attempts at aviation, like gliding and kite-powered flights, to heavier-than-air flight and even others beyond that. Mankind’s thirst for flight potentially found its first expression in China. There, people who were being punished were sometimes tied to kites; records trace this punishment to the 6th century CE. Abbas Ibn Firnas in al-Adalus was the first to demonstrate a glider flight in the 9th century CE. The dream of flight was also a passion of Leonardo da Vinci in the 15th century and he experimented with several flying machine designs. Finally, in 18th-century Europe, the first serious attempts at flying and flight occurred.
In the first half of the 19th century, hot-air tethered balloons were perfected and were involved in significant action in some mid-century wars. Their most noteworthy contribution was in the American Civil War, where hot-air balloons worked as observation balloons during the Petersburg battle. Experiments using gliders built the groundwork for crafting heavier-than-air craft; by the early 20th century, leaps forward in engine technology made powered and controlled flight a reality for the first time. Since that time, aircraft planners have persevered to make their crafts go further, higher, faster, and to be controlled with greater ease. Just some required factors in constructing an airplane are thrust, balance, wings, landing gear and trim controls. The development of flight has continued to proceed through many centuries; advancements continue to be made today.
Alfred V. Verville
Alfred V. Verville was a pioneer of aviation who was born in Michigan in 1890. He is best remembered as a standout contributor of military and civilian aviation. Spending nearly 50 years in the aviation industry, Verville took the lead in designing and developing almost a dozen military as well as commercial aircraft. Flying boats are also another part of his design resume for which he is known, as are commercial cabin airplanes, military racing airplanes, and the Verville-Sperry R-3.
Amelia Earhart is the famous American aviator and author. The first woman to be a recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross, Earhart was the first aviatrix to fly over the Atlantic Ocean solo. She was also integral to the formation of The Ninety Nines, which was a female-pilot organization. In 1935, the female aviator became a visiting faculty member at Purdue University’s aviation department. It was in 1937, while attempting to succeed at a circumnavigation flight of the world in a Purdue-funded plane, that Earhart mysteriously vanished from the face of the Earth near Howard Island, over the Pacific Ocean.
Charles Lindbergh is best remembered as an American aviator, but he was also noted as a social activist (primarily anti-war and pro-environment), an explorer, an inventor, and an author. While a U.S. Air Mail pilot, Lindbergh vaulted into instant fame when he performed a non-stop, solo flight in his monoplane called The Spirit of St. Louis. While he was a severe anti-war activist, Lindbergh was noteworthy for his oxymoronic support of World War II, which saw him fly numerous combat missions in the Pacific Theater. It was only in his later years that he became a prize-winning author, explorer and inventor.
E. Lilian Todd
E. Lilian Todd was a woman who grew up with an affection for mechanical devices; this led to her becoming a self-taught inventor who was identified by The New York Times as the first woman airplane designer on the planet. Born in 1865, Todd was originally from Washington, D.C., but later moved to New York City. She began to design her own airplanes in 1906, and in 1910, her newest design was flown by Didier Masson. In 1908, Todd established the Junior Aero Club after realizing that the education of future aviators was an important endeavor.
Enea Bossi, Sr.
An Italian-American aviation pioneer and aerospace engineer, Enea Bossi, Sr. was born in March of 1888 in Milan. He is still best remembered as the designer of Budd BB-1 Pioneer, which was the world’s first stainless steel craft, and the Pedaliante, a human-powered aircraft. Though born in Italy, Bossi, Sr. came to the United States when he married a Swiss-German immigrant who had gone to the U.S. before World War I erupted. The aviation pioneer was also involved with helicopter technology, and his two sons helped him, to a limited degree, in furthering that technology.
Giuseppe Mario Bellanca
Giuseppe Mario Bellanca was a builder and designer of airplanes born in 1886 in Sciacca, Italy. His claim to fame is that he was the first to construct a monoplane with an enclosed cabin in the United States; he accomplished this in 1922. After he graduated with a degree in engineering from the Politecnico di Milan University, he migrated to the U.S. in 1911. 1927 brought two big feats for this immigrant, as he established his Bellanca Aircraft Company and was made the cover of Time Magazine. In 1960, Bellance finally died in New York City.
Gustave Whitehead, born in 1874 in Bavaria, was a German immigrant and aviation pioneer. Once in the US, he constructed both engines and the early flying machines that would use them. A newspaper report in 1901 credited him with making a powered controlled flight in the state of Connecticut, two years before the Wright Brothers did. However, he fell into obscurity after he ended his aeronautical work, which was from 1911 onwards. In the years after his death in 1927, Whitehead was resurrected somewhat in books that renewed a debate about his real contributions to the history of aviation.
One of the richest people on Earth during his lifetime, Howard Hughes was an industrialist, engineer, aviator, movie director and producer, and philanthropist. While he developed a repute for making controversial and costly movies in the late 1920s, he was more famous for being a highly influential aviator. He constructed the Hughes H-1 Racer and H4 Hercules, set numerous world air-speed records, and bought and enlarged Trans World Airlines. In his later years, eccentric behavior took over, which is in part what led him to live a withdrawn lifestyle.
John Joseph Montgomery
John Joseph Montgomery was an inventor, an aviation pioneer, and a professor at Santa College. Born in 1858 in Yuba City, California, Montgomery was known to be the first person to successfully operate a heavier-than-air glider. Montgomery’s 1883 glider flight drew media attention. Another milestone for Montgomery arrived in 1906 when he was given a patent number for his invention of the aeroplane. Ironically, Montgomery’s demise came at the hands of the aviation field that he loved so much: in 1911, he died when his glider, called “The Evergreen,” crashed.
William S. Luckey
William S. Luckey is a less famous name in aviation, yet he was known to New Yorkers in the early part of the 20th century. On October 13, 1913, Luckey entered aviation history as the victor in the New York Times Aerial Derby that took place around Manhattan Island. Luckey completed the course of approximately six miles in only 52 minutes and 53 seconds. This surprise pilot was an uncommon figure in aviation because before his victory, he was a manufacturer of suitcases and trunks, and also a sufferer of rheumatism. About 50 years old when he won the derby, Luckey’s demise occurred only two years later when back was broken in a fall from his airplane.
The Wright Brothers are world-famous for being credited with the invention and then the building of the first successful airplane and the first controlled, powered, and heavier-than-air human flight in 1903. In the subsequent two years after their historic achievement, the brothers turned their flying machine into what would become the first practical and fixed-wing aircraft. It is noteworthy that the Wright Brothers are not the first to be credited with flying experimental aircraft. Their legacy is rooted in the fact that they are the first to be credited with inventing controls on an aircraft that made it possible to actually fly a fixed-wing powered aircraft.