Copyright © A. Filippone (1999-2003). All Rights Reserved.

Selected Aviation Milestones


The First Man in the Air

The Frenchmen J.F. Pilatre de Rozier and the Marquis d’Arlandes are regarded as the first men to hover on a balloon in November 1783 in Paris. They drifted across the city for about 5 miles in about 25 minutes.

Crossing the English Channel

On July 25, 1909 Bleriot took off on his No. XI monoplane powered with a 3 cylinder 70 hp piston engine and made it for Dover, across the English channel. The crossing took about 33 minutes at an average cruise height of 100 m (300 ft). This achievement was so impressive that a British pilot wrote “it is for the safety of the nation that Britain should become a nation of aviators.”. In the coming years (up to 1913) the airplane was built in 800 units and sold throughout Europe.

English Channel crossings remained a fix for many years to come. The Kremer prize of 1959 was addressed to anybody who would cross the channel on board of a human powered aircraft. This success was achieved for the first time by the Gossamer Albatross, designed by Paul McCready and his associates, and piloted by cyclist Brian Allen. The 22 mile crossing took 2 hours and 49 minutes in headwind. The date was June 12, 1979. The airplane had a 31 meters (96 ft) wing span and weighed about 31.5 (70 pounds).

Crossing the Atlantic

Charles Lindhberg is one of the most widely acclaimed aviation heroes of all times. His historic achievement was the New York to Paris no stop flight on May 20-21, 1927. The airplane was a Ryan NYP ( = New York-Paris), a design derived from an earlier Ryan M-2. The airplane was powered by a single 177 kW Wright J-5C Whirlwind radial piston engine. The flight lasted about 33 and a half hour at an average speed of 196 km/h (122 miles/h), before Lindhberg, almost astonished for his own success, approached the landing field of Le Bourget, north of Paris.

The first flight east-to-west is attributed to the Frenchmen Costes and Bellonte (1929), who traced Lindhberg’s route on board of their Bleriot XIX airplane, although in 1928 the German Herman Kohl flew from the west coast of Ireland to Labrador.

The Atlantic crossing on a balloon was attempted at least 13 times before M. Anderson, B. Abruzzo and L. Newman flew from Maine to France in 137 hours and 6 minutes in August 1978.

The First Helicopter Flight

The first direct-lift, rotary wing vehicle to ever take off was the Vought-Sikorsky VS-300 on Sept. 14, 1939. Igor Sikorsky himself piloted the vehicle he had designed and built. It was a 28 ft, three-bladed single-rotor, with anti-torque tail rotor. The vehicle was powered by a 4-cylinder 75 hp engine. The helicopter also featured collective pitch control and landing gear.

On his first flight Sikorsky was able to lift off 3 ft (1 metre) for about 10 seconds. Further improvements over the following years allowed the vehicle to log more that 100 hours of flight and break a staggering number of records, among which the longest flight, longest endurance, fancy manouevres and flight above ground. Sikorsky said a new era was coming:

If a man is in need of rescue, an airplane can come in and throw flowers on him … But a direct-lift aircraft could come and save his life.

More on Helicopters

The First Supersonic Flight

The supersonic age starts on October 14, 1947. Capt. Y.C. Yaeger breaks the sound barrier on his Bell X-1 named Glamorous Glennis at Muroc Dry Lake, California.

Readers are welcome to

Selected References

  • Gibbs-Smith CH. The Rebirth of European Aviation, 1902-1908: A Study of the Wright Brothers’ Influence, London 1974.

  • Grosser M. Gossamer Odyssey – The Triumph of Human-Powered Flight, Dover Inc., 1991. (ISBN 0-486-26645-1).

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Copyright © A. Filippone (1999-2003). All Rights Reserved.