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Progress In Aviation

It has been just a little over 110 years since Orville and Wilbur Wright made their first powered flight in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina in 1903. The flight lasted twelve seconds and was about the distance of the inside of a running track. It is hard to believe that in that relatively short period of time, flying has become so commonplace that most of us think nothing of travelling by plane, either across the country or to other continents. It is often said the world has become smaller and, indeed, it may appear so in terms of accessibility.

The First World War was a catalyst for the new science of aviation. Engineers scrambled to develop better reconnaissance, fighter, bomber and ground attack planes. Those who could fly them became the elite, the new knights of the air. Men such as Manfred von Richthofen, nicknamed the Red Baron, William Bishop and Edward Rickenbacker are remembered as such aces. The more peaceful, inter-war years brought a less meteoric advance, but there were very significant advances. In 1920, KLM, the Dutch airline, was the first to offer a regular, scheduled commercial service between London and Amsterdam. In 1928, English engineering student Frank Whittle was granted a patent for the jet engine, which allowed for much more power. This paved the way for larger, heavier planes and for longer distances. Also in 1927, American aviator Charles Lindbergh was the first person to fly non-stop across the Atlantic, followed a year later by Amelia Earhart, who was the first woman to do so. World War Two and subsequent conflicts have seen an increase in the use of aviation in combat. We see technology advance and filter through into everyday life. In 1969 “Concorde”, the first and, so far, only, commercial airline to travel at supersonic speed made its debut. It could travel from London to New York in three and a half hours. It was a feat of engineering but tickets were expensive and it was considered a commercial failure. The program ended after twenty-seven years.

Today, few of us think twice of travelling thousands of miles in just a few hours. We may grumble at long lines, delays or airline food but just think how far air travel has come since that first flight in 1903. We owe much to those early pioneers: our view of the world, trips for business or pleasure, freight or mail delivered to us just hours or days after leaving their point of origin; and despite disasters making the headlines, air travel is still one of the safest means of transport.

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