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    216. History of Flight 🔴🔴🔴

    History of Flight

    From prehistoric times, humans have watched the flight of birds, and longed to imitate them, but lacked the power to do so. Logic dictated that if the small muscles of birds can lift them into the air and sustain them, then the larger muscles of humans should be able to duplicate the feat. No one knew about the intricate mesh of muscles, sinew, heart, breathing system, and devices not unlike wing flaps, variable-camber and spoilers of the modern airplane that enabled a bird to fly. Still, thousands of years and countless lives were lost in attempts to fly like birds.

    The identity of the first “bird-men” who fitted themselves with wings and leapt off of cliffs in an effort to fly are lost in time, but each failure gave those who wished to fly questions that needed to be answered. Where had the wing flappers gone wrong? Philosophers, scientists, and inventors offered solutions, but no one could add wings to the human body and soar like a bird. During the 1500s, Leonardo da Vinci filled pages of his notebooks with sketches of proposed flying machines, but most of his ideas were flawed because he clung to the idea of birdlike wings. By 1655, mathematician, physicist, and inventor Robert Hooke concluded that the human body does not possess the strength to power artificial wings. He believed human flight would require some form of artificial propulsion.

    The quest for human flight led some practitioners in another direction. In 1783, the first manned hot air balloon, crafted by Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier, flew for 23 minutes. Ten days later, Professor Jacques Charles flew the first gas balloon. A madness for balloon flight captivated the public’s imagination and for a time flying enthusiasts turned their expertise to the promise of lighter-than-air flight. But for all its majesty in the air, the balloon was little more than a billowing heap of cloth capable of no more than a one-way, downwind journey.

    first tower beacon .png

    Balloons solved the problem of lift, but that was only one of the problems of human flight. The ability to control speed and direction eluded balloonists. The solution to that problem lay in a child’s toy familiar to the East for 2,000 years, but not introduced to the West until the 13th century—the kite. The kites used by the Chinese for aerial observation, to test winds for sailing, as a signaling device, and as a toy, held many of the answers to lifting a heavier-than-air device into the air.

    One of the men who believed the study of kites unlocked the secrets of winged flight was Sir George Cayley. Born in England 10 years before the Mongolfier balloon flight, Cayley spent his 84 years seeking to develop a heavier-thanair vehicle supported by kite-shaped wings. The “Father of Aerial Navigation,” Cayley discovered the basic principles on which the modern science of aeronautics is founded; built what is recognized as the first successful flying model; and tested the first full-size man-carrying airplane.  

    For the half-century after Cayley’s death, countless scientists, flying enthusiasts, and inventors worked toward building a powered flying machine. Men, such as William Samuel Henson, who designed a huge monoplane that was propelled by a steam engine housed inside the fuselage, and Otto Lilienthal, who proved human flight in aircraft heavier than air was practical, worked toward the dream of powered flight. A dream turned into reality by Wilbur and Orville Wright at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on December 17, 1903.


    The bicycle-building Wright brothers of Dayton, Ohio, had experimented for 4 years with kites, their own homemade wind tunnel, and different engines to power their biplane. One of their great achievements in flight was proving the value of the scientific, rather than a build-it-and-see approach. Their biplane, The Flyer, combined inspired design and engineering with superior craftsmanship. By the afternoon of December 17th, the Wright brothers had flown a total of 98 seconds on four flights. The age of flight had arrived. 

    History of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)

    During the early years of manned flight, aviation was a free for all because no government body was in place to establish policies or regulate and enforce safety standards. Individuals were free to conduct flights and operate aircraft with no government oversight. Most of the early flights were conducted for sport. Aviation was expensive and became the playground of the wealthy. Since these early airplanes were small, many people doubted their commercial value. One group of individuals believed otherwise and they became the genesis for modern airline travel.

    Planeador de 1852 por Sir George Cayley, aviador británico (1773–1857)

    P. E. Fansler, a Florida businessman living in St. Petersburg, approached Tom Benoist of the Benoist Aircraft Company in St. Louis, Missouri, about starting a flight route from St. 

    Petersburg across the waterway to Tampa. Benoist suggested using his “Safety First” airboat and the two men signed an agreement for what would become the first scheduled airline in the United States. The first aircraft was delivered to St. Petersburg and made the first test flight on December 31, 1913.

    A public auction decided who would win the honor of becoming the first paying airline customer. The former mayor of St. Petersburg, A. C. Pheil, made the winning bid of $400.00, which secured his place in history as the first paying airline passenger. 

    On January 1, 1914, the first scheduled airline flight was conducted. The flight length was 21 miles and lasted 23 minutes due to a headwind. The return trip took 20 minutes. The line, which was subsidized by Florida businessmen, continued for 4 months and offered regular passage for $5.00 per person or $5.00 per 100 pounds of cargo. Shortly after the opening of the line, Benoist added a new airboat that afforded more protection from spray during takeoff and landing. The routes were also extended to Manatee, Bradenton, and Sarasota giving further credence to the idea of a profitable commercial airline. 

    The St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line continued throughout the winter months with flights finally being suspended when the winter tourist industry began to dry up. The airline operated for only 4 months, but 1,205 passengers were carried without injury. This experiment proved commercial passenger airline travel was viable.   

    The advent of World War I offered the airplane a chance to demonstrate its varied capabilities. It began the war as a reconnaissance platform, but by 1918, airplanes were being mass produced to serve as fighters, bombers, trainers, as well as reconnaissance platforms.


    Aviation advocates continued to look for ways to use airplanes. Airmail service was a popular idea, but the war prevented the Postal Service from having access to airplanes. The War Department and Postal Service reached an agreement in 1918. The Army would use the mail service to train its pilots in flying cross-country. The first airmail flight was conducted on May 15, 1918, between New York and Washington, DC. The flight was not considered spectacular; the pilot became lost and landed at the wrong airfield. In August of 1918, the United States Postal Service took control of the airmail routes and brought the existing Army airmail pilots and their planes into the program as postal employees.  

    Wilbur y Orville Wright

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