By Dr. Kandis Y. Wyatt, PMP
Faculty Member, Transportation and Logistics
National Aviation History Month is observed in November of each year. This event commonly highlights the achievements, advancements and accolades of people who have contributed to aviation and aerospace.
The History of Aviation Goes Back Thousands of Years
The history of aviation can be traced back thousands of years. The earliest recorded examples of aviation started when the Chinese began making kites in 350 B.C.
However, the first use of modern-day airplane parts, such as the propeller and the parachute, are attributed to Leonardo Da Vinci in the late 1400s. Da Vinci invented the ornithopter, a primitive flight device inspired by the wingspan of a bird.
What we know today as a plane was a primitive flying apparatus, which was first designed in the 1600s. While there were several trials and errors involving other lighter-than-air creations, it took many years for the next major advancement in aviation.
The first hot-air balloon was invented in France in 1783, and the first official air flight occurred soon after its invention. The first steam-powered airplane was developed in 1848 by John Stringfellow.
There are now an average of 200,000 flights per day, and some airports average 100 flight arrivals per hour. Air travel is the fastest-growing form of public transportation and is a safe mode of transportation. From its humble beginnings in kites and gliders, aviation has advanced to supersonic aircraft and spacecraft such as Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin.
National Aviation History Month Is Also a Good Time to Correct Historic Misconceptions
It’s also important during National Aviation History Month to correct aviation misconceptions. For example, history books in the United States have documented Wilbur and Orville Wright as as the founders of flight. Their 12-second flight was recorded in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on December 17, 1903.
Officially, the Wright Brothers had the first recorded flight in the United States, but it was not the first flight of an aircraft. Brazilian aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont had an earlier flight. Santos-Dumont won a competition in France on October 23, 1906, when his winged aircraft flew about 200 feet.
The Aviation Industry Continues to Grow
Air flight quickly took off in the early 20th century, with the first transatlantic flight occurring in 1919 in 1919 and the first around-the-world flight occurring in 1924. In addition, 20th-century transcontinental voyages exponentially increased once the sound barrier was broken in 1947 and airplane speeds exceeded 400 mph as a result of advances in aviation. These advancements include new building materials for aircraft, jet and rocket propulsion equipment, and pressurized cabins.
The Aviation Industry Supports Our Global Society
The aviation industry has long been a key component of commerce, the national economy and countries’ gross domestic products (GDPs). Today’s aircraft transport people and cargo, moving them quickly and efficiently. Airplanes also revolutionized communication by speeding up mail delivery times.
According to the Air Transportation Action Group (ATAG), aviation supports 65.5 million jobs, has three trillion dollars in economic impact and is a leader in driving global development. The social benefits of aviation include allowing people of various nations to more easily travel to both national and international locations.
Looking to the Future of Aviation
National Aviation History Month is also a good time to contemplate the future direction of the aviation industry. Radar technology, photography, military surveillance, and search and rescue efforts have all been enhanced though advances in aviation. In addition, the aviation industry has produced several related technologies such as satellites, drones and spacecraft.
The first satellite company was formed in 1967, and the first commercial satellite enterprise was launched in 1976. Since then, every satellite has utilized advanced aviation technology. Satellites have been used to enhance communication, develop defense strategies and observe the earth and atmosphere.
Drones have revolutionized the aviation industry. They are also referred to as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) because the operator is at a remote location.
Drones can be used for reconnaissance flights, deliveries, aerial photography and surveillance. The drone industry has grown so fast that regulatory procedures had to be implemented to ensure safe airspace for both drones and airplanes.
Spacecraft and aerospace have been directly impacted by technology improvements in aviation. Spacecraft such as the space shuttle utilize the latest in aviation design and technology to enter space and return to Earth.
From the first landing on the Moon to commercialized spaceflights, this industry has seen numerous advancements over several decades. Several countries have a robust spaceflight program, which resulted in calls to develop a dedicated international space regime.
Historically, there have been many advancements in aviation, but the aviation industry has also experienced devastating setbacks. Amelia Earhart was attributed with the first trans-Atlantic flight and was lost at sea in the Pacific Ocean during an attempt at becoming the first pilot to complete a circumnavigational flight of Earth in 1937.
Some aviators have suffered racial discrimination. For instance, the Tuskegee Airmen endured both segregation and discrimination to serve in the military during WWII.
Other aviation setbacks have included:
- The 1941 destruction of aircraft and 2,403 servicemembers at Pearl Harbor
- The Challenger space shuttle crash in 1986
- The Columbia space shuttle explosion in 2003
The Challenger and Columbia disasters impacted the aerospace and aviation industries for years. They serve as a cautionary tale of the risks of space travel.
The Aviation Industry Needs More Diversity and Accessibility
Historically, the aviation industry has been largely employed people who are male and Caucasian. There are few programs designed to encourage people with physical or developmental disabilities to pursue aviation careers.
But that is changing. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) implemented an Aviation Development Program to encourage the hiring of underrepresented individuals. In addition, several organizations such as Women in Aviation and the Airport Minority Advisory Council have implemented scholarships to encourage women and minorities to pursue careers in aviation.
Increasing Your Aviation Awareness
During National Aviation History Month, try to increase your aviation awareness and celebrate the history of flight. Here are a few ways to accomplish these objectives:
- Learn more aviation history. Visit your local library and the University’s library. Both have a wealth of resources to help you learn about the history of aviation.
- View a documentary. There are several streaming services, as well as websites that provide videos about the history of aviation.
- Visit a museum. There are museums to highlight pioneers in the aviation industry, such as the Wright Brothers, the Tuskegee Airmen and Amelia Earhart. In addition, the Smithsonian has a museum dedicated to aviation and aerospace.
Humankind has soared for over 100 years, both literally and figuratively. If the future of aviation is anything like the past, it will be filled with advancements in both aviation and aerospace.