Front page news

LINDBERGH DOES IT! TO PARIS IN 33-1/3 HOURS cried out the newspaper headlines on May 22, 1927. Lindbergh’s epic flight made front page headlines in papers all around the world.

We are all aware of the impact Lindbergh’s New York-to-Paris ?ight had on the public, but what other aviation events of the 1920s and 1930s were deemed of enough importance to garner headlines in the newspapers?

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The crazy man of the air: C.K. Hamilton wows crowds in 1910

Aviation burst upon the American public in 1910 through a frenzy of air meets, contests, daring flights and maneuvers. Over the year, 100 regularly organized meets and exhibitions were held. New records were set and broken almost every week. During that one year, the art of aviation made such extraordinary advances that there are few comparisons in the history of technology.

Aviators became heroes, and the top heroes changed constantly. Cosmopolitan magazine called the new birdmen “Wizards of the Air” for their daring do. One of the most active and daring pilots was Charles K. Hamilton, who in 1910 became famous for thrilling the crowds. During the year Hamilton would appear in events from coast-to-coast, along the way setting records.

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The first regulations

Those who are familiar with today’s Federal Aviation Regulations know that they are a thicket of rules, occupying four volumes of the Code of Federal Regulations, consisting of 460 sections extending over 3,600 pages.

But 85 years ago, it was a simpler time for aviation. That’s when the regulation of aircraft and pilots began with the Air Commerce Act of 1926. [Read more...]

The OX-5 racers

In a previous column, I discussed the penetration of the ubiquitous, war-surplus Curtiss OX-5 engine into the new aircraft market, which lasted into the 1930s. Not only was the OX-5 engine used as a powerplant option on new aircraft, it also powered custom-built aircraft that were used in exhibition work and races.

In fact, the Aero Club of Southern California would pioneer OX-5 class races and foster the design of new class of race planes designed around the engine.

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California’s air heritage

Dennis Parks is Curator Emeritus of Seattle’s Museum of Flight.

Aviation was introduced to California — and Californians were introduced to aviation — via a spectacular 11-day event held at Dominguez Ranch outside of Los Angeles in January 1910. [Read more...]

Fliers or liars?

Dennis Parks is Curator Emeritus of Seattle’s Museum of Flight.

When Wilbur Wright arrived in France May 29, 1908, to carry out demonstrations for a French syndicate interested in building Wright Flyers, it would be the first time one of the Wright brothers flew outside of America. Wilbur not only faced the challenge of flying but of skepticism in the European aviation community that had taken an anti-Wright stance. European newspapers, especially in France, were openly derisive, calling them bluffeurs (bluffers). The Paris edition of the New York Herald summed up Europe’s opinion of the Wright brothers on Feb. 10, 1906: “The Wrights have flown or they have not flown. They possess a machine or they do not possess one. They are in fact either fliers or liars.”

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The flying bicycle

Dennis Parks is Curator Emeritus of Seattle’s Museum of Flight.

Before they pioneered the airplane, inventors such as Orville and Wilbur Wright and Glenn Curtiss had another technical fascination: Bicycles.

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Flying Gypsies

Dennis Parks is Curator Emeritus of Seattle’s Museum of Flight.

Ever since the conception of the light airplane in the 1920s, the magnitude of flights achieved by pilots using light planes never ceases to surprise, especially when used for around-the-word tours. Such trips would seem to be in the provenance of larger, higher-powered aircraft, not small, low-powered aircraft.

The year 1925 saw the birth of the first highly-produced, practical, reliable light plane, the de Havilland Moth. This plane was designed as a two-seat light plane capable of withstanding the stresses of instructional work, while large and comfortable enough for cross country flying. The craft was so popular that by 1926 output was about one a day.

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The first sport planes

Dennis Parks is Curator Emeritus of Seattle’s Museum of Flight.

In the May 13, 1920, issue of the English magazine Flight, a survey of a new type of aircraft they called the “sporting aeroplane” was published. The article provided a list of these aircraft of 50 horsepower or under, along with drawings of each.

Though most of the airplanes were from England or France, some six American designs were covered: ACE, Bellanca CE, Dayton-Wright Messenger, Hild-Marshonet, Loening Kitten, and Martin Kitten. [Read more...]

The OX-5 era

Dennis Parks is Curator Emeritus of Seattle’s Museum of Flight.

After the end of World War I, surplus warplanes were dumped on the market at a fraction of their original cost, leaving manufacturers with little demand for new aircraft. Without a doubt this availability of cheap aircraft hindered the development of new aircraft in the U.S., as surplus aircraft, many still in shipping crates, were sold for as little as a couple of hundred dollars.

In fact, the post-war market looked so good that Curtiss bought back more than 1,600 JN-4 Jennies and 4,608 OX-5 engines. The vast popularity of the war-surplus Jenny led to its being the second most registered aircraft design in the United States before 1940.

However, the corollary to the story is that the stocks of war surplus Curtiss OX-5 engines powered the growth in general aviation for a decade. [Read more...]