onAir
onAir
Aviation

Five aircraft that changed the world!


DC-3
DC-3

Thanks to our modern aircraft, getting around the world is painless. With today's jet planes, we travel with speed, safety and a glass of champagne in hand. Of course, it hasn't always been that way. It took the ingenuity (and guts) of a few persistent individuals to bring the possibility of flight to the masses.

The Wright Flyer
The Wright Flyer

Man takes flight

On the cold and windy morning of December 12, 1903, The Wright Flyer, piloted by Orville Wright and powered by an anemic 12-horsepower engine, clawed its way into the air. The aircraft made two other flights that day, the longest just 852 feet in distance. But despite the short jaunt, there was promise: A machine heavier than air had taken flight.

First solo mission across the Atlantic

The Spirit of St. Louis
The Spirit of St. Louis

No other aircraft has been greeted by a larger crowd than The Spirit of St. Louis. More than 100,000 witnesses watched it land at 10:22 p.m. on May 20, 1927, at Le Bourget Field in Paris. Its single 220-horsepower engine had carried Charles Lindbergh almost 5,790 kilometres in 33.5 hours. More than 1,700 litres of fuel sat between the pilot and the front of the airplane. It had no windshield, so to look forward, Lucky Lindy peered through a periscope. The Wrights gave us the airplane, and Lindbergh gave us air travel. He made it seem more than possible: He made it look easy.

The first modern airliner

The twin-engined, all-metal DC-3 was delivered to American Airlines for its New York to Chicago route in May of 1936. Travelling at 333 kph and carrying 21 passengers, it was not only a comfortable and reliable ride, it also made air transportation profitable. By 1939, the world's airlines assigned it to more than 90 percent of their routes. Ultimately, 31,000 DC-3s would be manufactured, with over 1,000 of these ancient metal birds remaining in service today.

A commercial success

Boeing 707
Boeing 707

Eighty percent of the world's weather occurs below 18,000 feet, which once accounted for many a “bumpy” airplane ride. The Boeing 707 promised to carry its passengers in a fully pressurized cabin up to a comfortable, turbulence-free altitude. Well above the weather system, this airplane could travel at almost twice the speed of its propeller-driven contemporaries. Commercial airline history was made on October 26, 1958, when Pan American World Airways inaugurated transatlantic jet service between New York and Paris. Boeing jetliners were soon rushed into service throughout the world. Every long-haul airline flew the 707 as its smooth ride made air travel cushy. Its 120-passenger capacity reduced ticket prices, and its speed seemed to shrink the world.

New frontiers

SpaceShipOne
SpaceShipOne

The sky belongs to our imagination. On October 4, 2004, SpaceShipOne rocketed into history. It was the first privately funded spacecraft to exceed an altitude of 328,000 feet and transcend the official “edge of space.” The Wrights gave us the airplane. Lindbergh gave us air travel. Burt Rutan, the developer of SpaceShipOne, gives us the promise of commercial space tourism. The world seems smaller than ever before.

(John Purner is a pilot and the author of five best-selling aviation books.)

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TOP PHOTO: BOEING COMMUNICATIONS
THE WRIGHT FLYER: ERIC LONG / OIPP / SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION
THE SPIRIT OF ST. LOUIS: ERIC LONG / OIPP / SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION
707: BOEING COMMUNICATIONS
SPACESHIPONE: COURTESY OF SCALED COMPOSITES, LLC

April 2006




Flight Passes