What are the 20 most critical milestones in aviation?

Several years ago we asked a number of individuals prominent in the aviation world to give us their thoughts on the most important events in the history of aviation. I ran across those lists recently and it got me to thinking that a great deal has happened in the world of flight in the last decade.

For example, there has been an around-the-world flight in a balloon. We’ve seen a pair of flights by a civilian team within a couple weeks in the same craft to what is accepted as “space.” Unmanned landings have been made on Mars and we’ve had fly-bys of other planets.

We’ve seen light sport planes come to the fore and the age of personal jets seems to be just around the corner.

Cessna is building lots of business jets and a goodly number of single engine prop planes. Cirrus is now the leader in producing single engine private aircraft.

The two big airliner manufacturers, The Boeing Co. and Airbus, continue to improve their products. Boeing has regained numerical superiority with its composites aircraft and Airbus is building a plane even larger than the biggest 747. The 5,000th Boeing 737 is now being manufactured at a plant in Renton, Wash.

Of course, improvements in navigation technology and instrumentation are also strong contenders for major steps in the world of flight.

Who can deny the advances of GPS navigation for convenience and safety? The advent of the glass cockpit with the redundancy built into the instrumentation is another major issue that has faced pilots in recent years.

But are these events as dramatic or as important to the advance of aviation as the Wright brothers’ first flight? How about Lindbergh’s crossing the Atlantic? The use of planes in World War I and the arrival of jets at the end of World War II? Was the Rutan-designed Voyager that made the first round-the-world flight without refueling a real milestone?

Following are a few of the ideas (in no particular order) that others put forward as important steps in aviation history. After you’ve read through them, I’d like to hear from you as to what aviation milestones you feel are the most important and in what order their importance stands.

The late Peter Bowers mentioned the introduction of the 50-hp Gnome rotary engine in France, the Louis Bleriot crossing of the English Channel and Eugene Ely’s landing – and subsequent takeoff — of an airplane on the battleship Pennsylvania as several important steps. He also noted that two of the four Army Douglas World Cruisers that started the first flight around the world finished it, the U.S. Army 150-hour endurance record by aerial refueling and Jimmy Doolittle’s blind takeoff, departure and return to landing “under the hood,” among the top aviation feats.

Daryl Murphy listed Glenn Curtiss’ first flight, the Mystery S design’s victory in the National Air Races over a military aircraft, the first jet flight by Germany, Chuck Yeager’s first supersonic flight and the Boeing 707.

Charles Spence, our longtime Washington, D.C., correspondent, listed the first successful helicopter flight by Paul Cornu of Lisieux, France (even though it only rose a couple feet off the ground), the first use of wireless in an airplane for sending a message from an airborne plane, Cal Rogers’ first coast-to-coast flight, the first regularly scheduled passenger service between Tampa and St. Petersburg, Florida, and the establishment of the CAA, which morphed into today’s FAA.

Was the introduction of the Concorde – the only supersonic passenger plane to operate regularly – an important step in the 100-plus years of aviation history? The Space Shuttle has been making trips into space for years now. How does it rank among aviation’s historical events? And don’t forget Boeing’s 747, which carried the Space Shuttle on its back for its initial test flight.

There are so many other flight and aviation-related situations that come to mind that I find it hard to limit my list or put them in any meaningful order of importance. Of course, it is relatively easy to assign the list a chronological arrangement, but does that do justice to some events over others?

I look forward to hearing from you and reading your lists of the 20 most critical milestones in aviation. Rank them as you feel they stand in order of importance or simply list them chronologically. You also could separate them into categories, i.e., early flight, space flight, piston-powered planes, jet planes, passenger aircraft or general aviation planes. Or, you can decide your own listing and separation.

Send me your ideas, preferably by email to Dave@GeneralAviationNews.com.

In coming issues I’ll print some of the lists as presented. I might even come up with some prizes to share among those submitting their entries.

Dave Sclair was co-publisher of General Aviation News from 1970 to 2000.

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