Taking to the air

The myth of Daedalus and Icarus depicted on an Italian woocut of 1493 (above). This woodcut of a kite in Europe appeared in a book published in 1635 (right).

The history of aviation is a long record of man’s restless urge to emulate soaring eagles and swooping hawks, to escape the earth and reach the freedom of the skies.

Even though the air had been harnessed for centuries with aerodynamic devices such as the feathers on an arrow or the shape of a boomerang or used to power sailing ships and windmills, it took eons for the principles to be applied to human flight. In attempts to achieve human flight, mankind failed for millennium to put principles witnessed in bird flight and sail power into practical application. Let’s examine some of the steps taken to progress from myth to tower jumpers, from kites to gliders to arrive at the airplane in a short pre-history of flight.

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Flying on wings of Mercury

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Though Hammondsport, N.Y., is synonymous with the name Glenn Curtiss and well known as the home of the Curtiss Aeroplane Co., after World War I Hammondsport also became the home of another aircraft manufacturer — Aerial Service Corp.

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Front page news

Wiley Post’s Lockheed Orion after being mounted on floats at Bryn Mawr Air Field, which is now the north end of the Renton, Washington, airport.

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

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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

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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

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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

Glenn Martin exhibiting one of his early machines at a fair at Wahpetor, N.D., in 1912. Photo courtesy Museum of Flight

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?

Wilbur making a circuit above Hunaudieres race course near Le Mans in August 1908.

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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Flying Gypsies

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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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