“There is no sport equal to that which aviators enjoy while being carried through the air on great white wings.”
-Wilbur Wright, 1905
Aviation, there’s nothing like it! From the feel of a rumbling jet engine beneath your toes to the joy of a first solo, nothing can compare to the experience of freedom it brings. This month is Aviation History Month, and to celebrate our incredible av-history we’ve decided to compile a short list of the aviation-based people, planes, and places that everyone should know.
AvPeople & Famous Pilots
“If you can fill out the yellow sheet with Jack Black in your hand instead of an I.V. in your arm, it was a good landing.”
-Charlie Kisslejack, Commander, US Navy, 1983
If you have your pilots license you have more than likely heard of Bernoulli’s Principle. This concept posits that pressure decreases as the speed of moving fluid increases, essentially explaining why an airfoil has the capability to lift a plane into the sky. He established this principle way before the invention of airplanes but it made him the chief resource in aerodynamics centuries after his birth.
Orville & Wilbur Wright
These gentlemen are famously known (and sometimes debated) as the first individuals to successfully conduct a free controlled flight of a power-driven airplane. This groundbreaking flight, on December 17, 1903, lasted all of 12 seconds. Despite the avid skepticism of their life-risking accomplishments the Wright brothers went on to sell the U.S. government its first airplane in 1909. For the rest of their lives, they continued to devote themselves to the perfection of human-powered flight building stepping stones for an amazing world of aviation to come.
A lesser known member of the Wright brother team, Charles Taylor is credited with the building of the 156 pound, 12 horsepower engine that was used in the Flyer’s famous 59-second flight. Up until that point, Taylor’s experience with engines consisted of a failed attempt to fix one once.
This groundbreaking individual created the first successful autopilot in 1912, in fact, the artificial horizon used today comes from the same basic design! It connected to a gyroscopic heading indicator (created by his father Elmer Sperry), as well as the attitude indicator (his second famous invention) with a hydraulically activated elevator and rudder.
Elizabeth (Bessie) Coleman
An aviation-passionate African American woman coming of age in the early 1900’s, Bessie Coleman decided she wanted to learn how to fly. Rejected from every flight school in the U.S. she took her talents abroad to the Caudron Brother’s School of Aviation and received her license seven months later. Her short life, she died in an airplane crash in 1926, is not indicative of the legacy she left behind as the first African American and one of the first female aviators in the world.
One of the most popular female pilots in history, Earhart is credited with being the first woman to fly solo non-stop across the Atlantic. She was only the 16th woman to earn her pilot’s license – the first woman worldwide was Raymonde de Laroche, Harriet Quimby for the U.S. Although her aviation career is impressive, Earhart is probably well-known for her mysterious death on her flight of the longest route around the world.
This British Royal Air Force engineer invented the turbojet engine in 1930. A brilliant aviation specialist undervalued by his own country, Whittle suffered multiple nervous breakdowns in his life, one following the reverse engineering of his patent by Germany. Despite ending his service of advanced jet design in England, Whittle would go on to be knighted in 1948, as well as be instrumental in bringing Rolls-Royce and General Electric into the jet age.
Playboy, movie producer/director, and lover of aviation Howard Hughes is most well-known for his reclusive ways and building of the H-4 Hercules, nicknamed by the press The Spruce Goose. This massive wooden seaplane only flew once, and never went into production. The H-4 Hercules stayed in a climate-controlled hangar until Hughes death in 1976.
This Medal of Honor recipient led 16 B-25’s off the USS Hornet on an incredible mission to bomb Japan. The physical damage of the raid was minimal, but the psychological blow was huge. He went on to steal the record for the fastest seaplane flight in 1925, fastest land plane flight in 1932, and to be one of the first to graduate with a doctorate in aeronautics from MIT.
Known as that “rare breed of pilot” to achieve aviation-icon status, Chuck Yeager became a WWII legend in a single mission. He shot down five enemy planes in one afternoon from his P-51, nicknamed the Glamorous Glennis. He evaded capture after Germany shot him down in war and became the first person to break the sound barrier in a Bell X-1.
“When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”
-Leonardo Da Vinci
The Wright Flyer
What av-history article could go without mentioning this famous machine? The Wright brothers usage of wing warping for bank, coordinated with yaw from the rudder stands as a concept still used in virtually every plane in the air today. This plane is accredited with the revolution that brought rapid advancement in the understanding/development of powered flying machines.
The Piper J-3 Cub
The very first bright yellow Cub sold in 1938, at 40 horsepower, costing a measly $1,000. The history-making mention for this popular Piper is its incredible timing – entering the world as a simple, low-cost, docile-handling machine with war looming in Europe. By the end of WWII, 80% of all U.S. military pilots had received their primary training on the Cub.
Boeing B-29 Superfortress
You may have heard of this plane because of its delivery of the final blow to Japan in WWII, dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The B-29 was fancy for its time with remote firing turret machine guns, dual-wheeled landing gear, and a pressurized cabin. Later they added new engines (making it the B-50) and it became the first plane to fly around the world non-stop.
Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird
Although it hasn’t been flown since 1999, this stealth machine still holds the world record for the fastest air-breathing manned plane in history (1976). This av-genius machine is so fast and powerful that it’s protocol for engaged surface-to-air missile avoidance is to simply outrun it.
This simple plane has been the best-selling four-place single engine for more than a decade due to its airframe ballistic parachute that gives Cirrus pilots the confidence to practice with a high-performance machine – the parachute alone has saved over 100 lives. One of its famous pilots is Ryan Campbell – the youngest pilot to circle the globe.
The Bell X-1 – First plane to break the sound barrier
The Spirit of St. Louis – First plane to fly non-stop from New-York to Paris
Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II – The future of American aerial warfare
AvHistory & Popular AvPlaces
“Aviation is proof that given the will, we have the capacity to achieve the impossible.”
The National Museum of the Unites States Air Force – Ohio
The largest and oldest military aviation museum in the world, est. 1923, is the official museum of the Unites Staes Air Force. It’s home to over 360 aircraft, numerous missiles, and the plane JFK’s took the day of his assassination. One of it’s most prominent attractions is the B-29 Superfortress (mentioned above). More than a million people visit every year.
The Pima Air & Space Museum – Arizona
See the Starr Bumblebee, the world’s smallest biplane, and the SR-71 Blackbird (mentioned above) here. The privately funded museum, established in 1976, covers 127 acres and features over 300 aircraft including the presidential plane of JFK and Lyndon B. Johnson. It has the biggest aircraft restoration facility worldwide and is home to the Arizona Aviation Hall of Fame.
The Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum – Washington, D.C.
Opened in 1946 this extremely popular museum (visited by over 7 million people a year) has the largest collection of aircraft in the world! See the Wright Flyer, The Spirit of St. Louis (both mentioned above), Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Vega 5B, Apollo 11, and Spaceship One. It’s companion facility at Dulles International houses the space shuttle Discovery, and Hiroshima bombers Winnie Mae and Enola Gay.
Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum – The home of the Spruce Goose (Mentioned above)
EAA AirVenture Oshkosh – World famous airshow in Oshkosh, Wisconsin
We hope you enjoyed this aviation blast from the past and that it fuels your av-geek spirit! Stay tuned for more av-history on our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest, and we will see you next time! Until then, safe travels and keep your eyes on the skies!
Author: Emily (@ID90 Travel)
Emily is the Content Marketing Manager here at ID90 Travel. An avid non-rev flyer (she grew up in the industry), and passionate private pilot, Emily can’t get enough of all things aviation. When not writing awesome ID90 Travel content she can be found on a Texas patio, being one with nature, or annoying her ID90T co-workers with her many, many, crowdsourcing questions.