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Aviation history

The first recorded flight by a manned heavier-than-air glider took place in 1853 at Brompton, near Scarborough in Yorkshire. The craft was designed and built by Sir George Cayley, and flown by his coachman.

Cayley's work was known to the Wright brothers of the United States, who extended the technology of flight with the principles of control still used today. The Wright brothers had researched and initially relied upon the aeronautical literature of the day, including Otto Lilienthal[?]'s tables, but found that they had errors. So they built a wind tunnel. They were the first to use a wind tunnel in the design of an aeroplane.

The Wrights made the first controlled powered heavier-than-air flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina on December 17, 1903. The first flight by Orville Wright, of 120 feet in 12 seconds, was recorded in a famous photograph. In the fourth flight of the same day, Wilbur Wright flew 852 feet in 59 seconds.

In New Zealand, South Canterbury farmer and inventor Richard Pearse constructed a monoplane aircraft that he reputedly flew before the Wright brothers. There is evidence that Pearse flew on March 31, 1903. However even Pearse himself admitted the flight was uncontrolled and ended in a crash landing on a hedge. Contradictory statements from Pearse and the lack of good contemporary documentary evidence means the year of Pearse's flight is uncertain and for many years was accepted as 1904. More recent research strongly indicates the flight took place in 1903. Unlike the Wrights, Pearse was unable to repeat his flights in a sustained manner.

Alberto Santos-Dumont made the first public flight on September 13, 1906 in Paris. His design, like the Wrights' design, used a canard elevator and wing-warping, and covered a distance of 221 metres.

Around the same time, two English inventors Henry Farman and John William Dunne[?] were also working separately on powered flying machines. In January 1908, Farman won the Grand Prix d’Aviation with a machine which flew for 1km.

Dunne's early work was sponsored by the British military, and tested in great secrecy in Glen Tilt[?] in the Scottish Highlands. His best early design, the D4, flew in December 1908 near Blair Atholl[?] in Perthshire. Dunne's main contribution to early aviation was stability, which was a key problem with the planes designed by the Wright brothers and Samuel Cody[?].

Controversy in the credit for invention of the airplane has been fueled by the Wrights' secrecy while their patent was prepared, by the pride of nations, and by the number of firsts made possible by the basic invention. For example, the Romanian engineer Traian Vuia[?] (1872 - 1950) has been credited with the first self-propelled, heavier-than-air aircraft, able to take off autonomously and entirely driven by its on-board installations throughout its evolution.

The last phrase disqualifies the Wright brothers because during the development of their aicraft they used a catapult takeoff system to compensate for the lack of wind at Huffman Prairie, Ohio. Vuia piloted the airplane he designed and built on March 18, 1906, at Montesson, near Paris. None of his flights were even 100 feet in length. In comparison, by the end of 1904, the Wright brothers had sustained flights of 5 minutes, circling over Huffman Prairie.

Barnstorming was a common lifestyle for Gypsy pilots who landed in fields near small towns across the United States, performed impromptu airshows, and sold rides.

Commercial Aviation really took hold after World War I using mostly ex-military aircraft in the business of transporting people and goods. Within a few years, many companies existed with routes that criss-crossed North America, Europe and other parts of the world.

See also: Incidents in Aviation, Milestones in Aviation

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