Many people erroneously believe that the Wright brothers made the first aircraft. While the plane they flew in Kittyhawk was certainly the first fully automated aircraft to achieve sustained flight, it definitely wasn’t the first aircraft ever. We hope to do away with little misconceptions like this which seem to plague our favorite topic in the world. However, to give you an exhaustive history of aviation would take a lot of time and space that we just don’t have right now. A brief summary of key events, points in time and facts related to the field is definitely something that we can give to our readers though.
While the rickety plane Orville and Wilbur put together is certainly one of the most unique aircrafts in the history of aviation, it does not mark the beginning of the field. For one, people have been using hot air balloons to float around in the sky for hundreds of years now, as far back as 1783 when Joseph and Jacques Montgolfier achieved the first unmanned balloon flight in Annonay, France. The craft was unmanned, but would you climb into something if you had no idea whether the thing would fly or crash and burn? Smoke was used as a lifting agent initially, because hot air wasn’t yet understood.
Believe it or not, the French were also responsible for the first manned balloon flight as well. Later in 1783, Jean Pilatre de Rozier flew about 5.5 miles over the span of 20 minutes on November 21st. Considering the only other means of propulsion back then was going on foot, horse or boat, and all of these were slower, it was a fairly monumental occasion. Like seacraft though, this first manned balloon was totally at the mercy of wind currents, which is an issue that still plagues balloon travel today. But without these first steps we wouldn’t be where we are now, so they’re important to remember.
At this point in time, flyers were still using smoke or hydrogen gas to act as a lifting agent. This practice actually continued for more than a hundred years, until the fatal day the Hindenberg exploded in the sky. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. It would take nearly 60 years from these first successful flights before the first air travel company tried to appear. The Aerial Transit Company headed by William S. Henson and John Stringfellow never got past the Articles of Incorporation stage, but it was the first serious attempt to start a business based on aviation.