The Early History of Aviation

As we continue our Throwback Thursday series, we take a look at the history of aviation and what its meant for business travel. While the names Orville and Wilber Wright jump to mind when you think of the beginning of aviation, it was Leonardo Da Vinci who is credited with some of the earliest studies of the possibility of flight. While he never constructed it, here is a drawing from 1490 of his plans for a “flying machine”.

In the late 1800s a German engineer who was fascinated with the idea of flight created a glider that could fly. Otto Lilienthal also published a book on aerodynamics that would inspire the Wright brothers and their designs.

Fast forward to 1903 just south of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina at Kill Devil Hills, Orville and Wilber Wright took turns piloting the first-ever manned, heavier-than-air flight. The first attempt made it 120 feet in 12 seconds. The fourth and final flight of the day was able to cover 850 feet in 59 seconds.

Read about some of the lesser-known pioneers of aviation from the History Channel.

More interested in the actual planes? Check out these 16 historic airplane designs that changed the game for aviation from the Smithsonian’s Air & Space Magazine.

In 1914, the first scheduled airline service took flight in St. Petersburg, Florida. The 22-minute flight across the Bay from St. Petersburg to Tampa could hold just one passenger – or two small ones –  and flew just above the water. This might not seem like a major time-saver, but the alternatives included a 2-and-a-half-hour steamboat trip or a 12-hour train ride. The service only operated for a few months until the snowbirds left town following the winter and interest waned, but it was a start. Percival Elliot Fansler, the driving force behind the service said of it: “What was impossible yesterday is an accomplishment today, while tomorrow heralds the unbelievable.”

By the mid-1920s, the U.S. Post Office mail fleet was flying 2.5 million miles and delivering 14 million letters annually.

 In 1926, Congress passed the Air Commerce Act. This legislation put the government in the position to regulate commercial aviation and authorized the Secretary of Commerce to designate air routes, to develop air navigation systems, to license pilots and aircraft and to investigate accidents.

Many more advances would come in the nearly hundred years since the 1920s – stay tuned for another post on this. And, no doubt, new innovations we cannot even imagine yet are sure to come as well. The reality of flight had a truly remarkable and undeniable impact on business travel. It made the world smaller. It opened up new markets. Along with air travel, business travel took off.

Visit the GBTA Blog every Thursday for more throwback posts to celebrate the history of our industry and our Association as we prepare to celebrate 50 years of Convention. Share your Convention memories with us on twitter using #TBT and tagging @GlobalBTA.

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