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U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service

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Aviation in America began in the late eighteenth century with balloons. In 1783 John Quincy Adams and Benjamin Franklin watched a balloon flight in Paris. Soon thereafter, Americans imported the balloon. In the United States the 1830s opened a "golden age" of ballooning that continued into the 1860s. During the Civil War, Union and Confederate forces used balloons to fly reconnaissance and thereby began military aviation in this country. Balloons are the main lighter-than-air craft operating in aviation today; they are used for sport, show, and scientific research.


A few Americans, notably the engineer Octave Chanute and the scientist Samuel Pierpont Langley, conducted experiments in aeronautics in the late nineteenth century. Langley, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, designed a steam-powered model that made the first sustained flight of a heavier-than-air machine in May of 1896. His work continued into the early 20th century with a full-sized flying machine, which Langley named "Aerodrome A." It crashed into the Potomac River nine days before the Wright brothers' first successful flights on December 17, 1903. Flights by Wilbur and Orville were manned, powered, controlled, and sustained, and culminated their years of theoretical and experimental research. The Wright brothers developed the airplane as a practical flying machine, and they built the world's first military airplane in 1908 for the United States Army Signal Corps.

In late 1909 the Wright brothers incorporated a manufacturing company, the Wright Company. Earlier that year Glenn Curtiss had undertaken the design and manufacture of airplanes at his G.H. Curtiss Manufacturing Company in Hammondsport, New York. These companies represent the origin of the aviation industry in the United States. Aviation in this country, however, progressed slowly from the experimental and demonstration activities of the early twentieth century to civil, commercial, and military operations.


Though the first to fly, the United States fell behind other nations, especially France. When this country entered the First World War in April 1917, the Aviation Section of the Army Signal Corps (the military's air arm, which eventually became the U.S. Air Force) had only a small number of airplanes. Most of these were already obsolete or out of commission. The Naval Flying Corps had only 54 aircraft. Furthermore, the nation had only the rudiments of an aviation industry, few airplane factories, few aeronautical engineers, few workers skilled in producing and maintaining aircraft, almost no commercial aviation, and only a handful of airfields.

World War I was a major impetus for the development of American aviation. The wartime Aircraft Production Board initially concentrated its efforts on getting one airplane, a De Havilland design, and one aviation engine, the Liberty, into production and service. The Army Signal Corps organized logging and mill operations in the Pacific Northwest, the principal source of the spruce essential for the construction of airplane frames. These efforts enabled the nation to build aviation equipment for the war, and the United States produced more than 24,000 Liberty engines by the Armistice (November 11, 1918). The number of airplanes, airfields, and pilots increased considerably during the war.

During the war, the United States expanded the number of aircraft designs. Glenn L. Martin, an aviator, actor, and aircraft manufacturer who established one of the first airplane factories in the U.S. (in 1909 in Santa Ana, California) merged his company with newly formed Wright Aircraft Company in 1916. The Wright-Martin company produced the Hispano-Suiza aircraft engine. The H in the designation of the Curtiss JN-4H trainer (the Jenny,) stood for the Hispano engine made by Wright. The Army, Navy, and Marines used the Jenny as a primary trainer. The Army Engineering Division developed the USD-9A day bomber. During the war the Navy acquired flying boats, like the Curtiss N-9 primary trainer, and dirigibles, like the Goodyear


Relatively few American-made aviation products reached the European battleground before the war ended. Yet, even so, the design and production achievements of World War I laid the foundation for the postwar aviation industry. When air mail service began in 1918, Liberty and Curtiss engines powered the air mail planes. Also, pilots were able to buy affordable war-surplus equipment to barnstorm for recreation and entertainment. Barnstorming, air shows, and air races popularized aviation.


American aviation suffered after the war ended. The surplus of aircraft and equipment limited the market for new products and designs and assured that the wood-fabric-wire construction of aircraft continued well into the 1920s. Army airfield construction around the country came to an immediate halt and some airfields were abandoned. The postwar period was one of instability and uncertainty for the (now) Army Air Service as its development was repeatedly scaled down over the next several years. America's retreat into isolationism led to limited funding for national defense, continued reliance on seapower for the country's primary defense, and diminishing support for the young air arm as the importance of airpower was debated. Shortages of men, equipment, and money were critical and the deteriorated condition of buildings and flying fields became a widely discussed issue.

In spite of the government's fiscal conservatism, interest in military aviation was maintained. In 1921, the Navy established its Bureau of Aeronautics to pursue naval air interests, and in 1922 the Navy completed conversion of one of its ships (a collier) into the first aircraft carrier, the USS Langley. The Army Air Service's first peacetime work after the Great War was the mapping and routing of "aerial roads," which were a primary need for development of aerial commerce and also served a military purpose. In 1921, the Air Service established a model airway as an example for a nationwide system of airways and landing fields. Scheduled flights began over the airway in 1922.


The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) began important aeronautical research during this period. NACA was established in 1915 "to supervise and direct the scientific study of the problems of flight, with a view to their practical solution." Its first aeronautical laboratory, at Langley Field in Hampton, Virginia, was dedicated in June 1920. This was the Federal government's only civilian aeronautical laboratory until World War II. The scope of its research programs encompassed the design, construction, and operation of airplanes, but the laboratory's emphasis was on aerodynamics research. By the late 1920s it was recognized as the premier aeronautical engineering laboratory in the world.

The elite Aero Club of America, founded in 1905, promoted private flying for sport and recreation. It issued flying licenses, awarded the prestigious Robert J. Collier Trophy for "greatest achievement in aviation in America" for the preceding year, and represented the Fédération Aeronautique Internationale in this country. Transformed in 1922 into the more egalitarian National Aeronautic Association, this organization verified national and international flying records like those set at the National Air Races of the 1920s and 1930s.


The United States Post Office inaugurated air mail service in 1918 to serve the needs of national commerce. This was the first serious commercial use of aviation, and its purpose was to improve mail delivery and reduce costs. The Post Office planned air mail routes, including the first Transcontinental Air Route from New York to San Francisco.

Airports developed along Air Mail Service routes until the fall of 1925. The Kelly Air Mail Act of 1925 authorized the Post Office to contract with private operators to fly the mail. After 1927, the development of entirely new routes produced a boom period in airport construction.

The Air Commerce Act of 1926 was the first Federal legislation to regulate civil aeronautics. The Department of Commerce established an Aeronautics Branch that became responsible for air safety, development of a system of airways, and the promotion of aviation and airports. The airway routes were equipped with navigation aids like radio range beacons and lights, and control towers in congested airways. The Air Commerce Act prohibited the Department of Commerce from directly subsidizing airport construction, but relief funds were used for airport development during the Great Depression. In 1934, the Aeronautics Branch was replaced with the Bureau of Air Commerce.

The Kelly Air Mail Act and the Air Commerce Act encouraged private investment in aviation, as did the 1926 establishment of the Daniel Guggenheim Fund for the promotion of Aeronautics. One way that the Guggenheim Fund promoted aviation was by sponsoring aeronautical programs in American universities, including the California Institute of Technology, the Mass-Institute Institute of Technology, and Stanford University.


In May of 1927, the world's perception of aviation was impacted dramatically by Charles A. Lindbergh, Jr.'s flight. Lindbergh made the first solo nonstop transatlantic flight (from New York to Paris) in a small Ryan monoplane. This daring feat illustrated aviation's potential to the public and convinced American businessmen to invest in aviation. Lindbergh became a tireless advocate of aviation, and his status as a public hero assured press attention.

General aviation became increasingly popular and accessible as manufacturers began to construct airplanes specifically for private and sports pilots. In 1927, Clyde V. Cessna organized the Cessna Aircraft Company in Kansas and built the prototype of the cantilever monoplane series for which his company became famous. That same year Taylor Brothers Aircraft Corporation was organized; a decade later and with a different company C.G. Taylor introduced the Taylorcraft line of aircraft. In 1937, William T. Piper acquired Taylor Brothers and changed the company's name to Piper. The Aeronautical Corporation of America-better known as Aeronca-began production of its C-2 light plane in 1929. Walter Beech formed the Beech Aircraft Company in 1932.


The science of rocketry was also being developed in this period. Robert H. Goddard, a physicist, and the "father of the modern rocket," developed a general theory of rocket action in 1912. Goddard undertook research during World War I that led to the development of a solid-propellant, which was used in World War II as the bazooka. Goddard's writings predicted the use of rockets for lunar, interplanetary, and intergalactic exploration. In 1926 he successfully launched the world's first liquid-fuel rocket at Auburn, Massachusetts, an event known as the "Kitty Hawk" of rocketry, and in 1930, at Roswell, New Mexico, he fired an 11-foot rocket to the height of 2,000 feet at a speed of 500 mph. In 1935 one of his liquid-propelled rockets exceeded the speed of sound.


Three large conglomerates emerged in the commercial aviation industry to produce and fly aircraft. Their manufacturing plants were scattered throughout the country, with concentrations on both coasts. One large conglomerate was United Aircraft and Transport Corporation. Its chairman was William E. Boeing in Seattle, Washington, and the president was Frederick B. Rentschler in Hartford, Connecticut. In 1933 this one holding company manufactured Boeing airplanes in Seattle; Hamilton Standard propellers, Pratt & Whitney aircraft engines, and Chance Vought military aircraft in East Hartford, Connecticut; Pratt & Whitney aircraft engines in Longueuil, Quebec, Canada; Sikorsky flying boats in Stratford, Connecticut; and Stearman aircraft in Wichita, Kansas. In addition, it operated airlines-United Airlines, Boeing Air Transport, National Air Transport, Pacific Air Transport, and Varney Air Lines, and other concerns, including the Boeing School of Aeronautics in California, United Aircraft Exports in Connecticut, United Airports Company in California, and United Airports of Connecticut.

A second giant in the industry was North American Aviation, organized by Clement M. Keys. North American included the large National Air Transport airline. The third large conglomerate was Aviation Corporation of the Americas (AVCO) that involved Juan Trippe of Pan American Airways, airplane designer and manufacturer Sherman Fairchild, and others. Some companies, like Leroy R. Grumman's Grumman Aircraft, remained competitive outside of the consolidated concerns. Lockheed, founded by Allan and Malcolm Loughead, became a division of the Detroit Aircraft Corporation and later the Southern California Aviation Corporation. Donald Douglas's aircraft company had financial and stock ties to Transcontinental and Western Air and North American Aviation. With few though notable exceptions, like the Naval Aircraft Factory in Philadelphia, the aircraft industry manufactured military aircraft under contract with the services and according to military specifications. These military contracts spurred the growth of the industry.

A national airmail scandal in 1934 led to cancellation of airmail contracts due to fraud and brought on a reorganization in the aviation industry. A new law for private carriers with airmail contracts required the separation of equipment makers (manufacturers), from equipment operators (airlines). This resulted in the forced break-up of United Aircraft and Transport Corp. (William Boeing's giant conglomerate). Three companies emerged from the dissolution; Boeing Airplane Company built airplanes; United Aircraft Corporation made aircraft engines and propellers, as well as Sikorsky flying boats and Chance Vought fighter planes; and United Airlines flew the commercial equipment.

The airmail scandal affected the military when the Army Air Corps was ordered to carry the mail during what amounted to a national emergency. The Air Corps was not equipped or trained for this job, and the consequences were tragic-66 crashes and 11 deaths in 3 months. Army aviation subsequently underwent a major reorganization, directly attributed to the airmail fiasco, which Eddie Rickenbacker had called "legalized murder."

By the early 1930s, research at NACA's laboratory at Langley Field, Virginia, led to a new concept for aircraft design which featured a low-wing monoplane of all metal construction, with two or four air-cooled engines, retractable landing gear, and variable-pitch propellers. Some aircraft manufacturers, notably Boeing, Martin, and Douglas, adopted the new concept immediately and revolutionized air transport and military bombers. The Boeing 247 transport, the first truly modern airliner, followed NACA's new design concept. Next was the Douglas DC-3, which became the world's most successful airliner prior to the jet age. Boeing also used the same principles in designing its B-17 in 1935 for the Army Air Corps. The B-17 was the forerunner of all modern subsonic bombers, and it gave the military its first real American air power.

The Department of Commerce's Bureau of Air Commerce was replaced by an independent agency called the Civil Aeronautics Authority in 1938. Its independence was short-lived. In 1940 control of civil aviation was vested in the Civil Aeronautics Administration within the Department of Commerce. Congress transformed that organization into the Federal Aviation Agency, an independent regulatory agency, in 1958. That agency in turn became the Federal Aviation Administration within the Department of Transportation in 1967. These federal agencies administered civil aviation, though under heavy military influence during World War II and the first decade of the Cold War.


The start of World War II in Europe prompted large, direct federal funding of airports through the Development of Landing Areas for National Defense, or DLAND program, administered by the Civil Aeronautics Administration. Also for defense purposes, the Civil Aeronautics Administration assumed operation of airport traffic control and extended air traffic control to all airways. Airport construction, airport traffic control, and airway traffic control-all wartime measures-became permanent operations of the federal agency for civil aviation. The military reserved specified airspace for its use and developed its own navigation systems. The Federal Aviation Act of 1958 assigned domestic airspace to the new Federal Aviation Agency and thereby reduced tension between civil and military aviation.

The aerial attack on Pearl Harbor demonstrated that the use of air power had become decisive. World War II brought military aviation to the forefront of the industry and greatly increased industry's production. The magnitude of the wartime demand prompted manufacturing companies to convert from peacetime job shop methods to wartime line production techniques. This changed the nature, as well as the magnitude, of production. Industry expanded production of military equipment capable of operating from land, from water, and from aircraft carriers. Military aviation operations expanded greatly from the World War I and peacetime missions. The missions included training, coastal patrol, observation and reconnaissance, scouting, convoy protection and other escort services, logistical support in the form of transport and cargo operations, as well as all types of air combat (pursuit, attack, bombardment, and observation).

The war prompted advances in aircraft technology and the design of new aircraft. Range, load, speed, maneuverability, and armament were improved as new designs came into production. Fighter planes illustrate the variety of military aircraft. The streamlined Bell P-39 Airacobra, versatile Curtiss P-40 fighter, heavy Republic P-47 Thunderbolt, long-range North American P-51 Mustang, night-flying Northrop P-61 Black Widow, multi-purpose Vultee P-66 Vanguard, and jet Lockheed P-80A Shooting Star are a few examples. The Army's Air Transport Command developed international air routes flown by military and commercial carriers and prompted the development of aircraft designed specifically for transport purposes. In the name of air transport, war-time military contracts with commercial airlines greatly increased the number of domestic airlines with international experience.

New gas turbine and rocket technology yielded products introduced into combat in World War II, like the German V-2 liquid-fuelled rocket-propelled missile. The advent of jet-powered fighter aircraft during the war presaged revolutionary changes to come in aircraft design and military tactics. These wartime developments influenced postwar research, development, and production. The helicopter also entered production during the war. Sikorsky, Bell, Piasecki, and Hiller produced helicopters in quantity by the late 1940s.

These new technologies-helicopters, jets, and rockets-came to the fore during the Cold War that followed after World War II. Although jet aircraft served in World War II, they did not battle each other until the Korean Conflict, when North American F-86 Sabre fighters fought Russian MiG-15s in dogfights. Any fighter plane without jet power was soon obsolete. Jets powered the Lockheed U-2 spy plane and the Boeing 707 commercial airliner of the 1950s and most military and large commercial aircraft that entered service thereafter. On October 14, 1947, the first flight faster than the speed of sound was made by Capt. Charles "Chuck" Yeager flying the XS-1 (later renamed the X-1). Supersonic fighter planes replaced jet fighters just five years after jets replaced piston-engine aircraft.

The structure of the American aeronautical community was greatly changed by World War II. The aircraft industry had become the largest in the country. Following World War II general aviation increased dramatically in this country. The GI Bill made it possible for veterans to take flying lessons inexpensively. Airplanes were relatively affordable and large numbers of people learned to fly. Cessna and many other companies responded to this growing enthusiasm for general aviation, and produced large numbers of aircraft for the public and business. New general aviation airfields were constructed, and existing fields were upgraded. The spread of general aviation impacted many small communities around the nation not easily served by major airfields in metropolitan areas.


A major reorganization of the U.S. defense establishment occurred with the National Security Act (July 17, 1947) which created the Department of Defense, as well as the National Military Establishment which included three separate departments, the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force. The United States Air Force became a separate service on September 18, 1947, with equal status to the two other forces, after 40 years in the Army. Three major combat commands provided the Air Force's fundamental framework: Strategic Air Command, Tactical Air Command, and Air Defense Command.

Research and development of rocket technology led to the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). This rocket-powered, long-range weapon, included the Atlas model of the 1950s, the Titan (a second generation ICBM developed in the 1950s), and the Minuteman in the 1960s. The U.S. and the U.S.S.R. announced that they would launch satellites as part of the International Geophysical Year of 1957-1958. On October 4, 1957, the Soviets launched Sputnik, the world's first man-made satellite. The United States was shocked by the Soviet Union's achievement, and Sputnik led directly to the establishment of the U.S. space program. The National Aeronautics and Space Act in July 1958 established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) with a broad charter for aeronautical and space research. The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) was abolished, but its laboratories and personnel provided the nucleus of NASA.


In a dramatic "space race" with the Soviet Union, the U.S. was the first to put man on the moon. U.S. achievements included America's first man in space, Alan B. Shepard, Jr., on May 5, 1961, and John H. Glenn, Jr.'s first manned orbital flight on February 20, 1962. Apollo 11 astronauts Neil A. Armstrong and Edwin A. Aldrin, Jr., were the first men on the moon. Armstrong's first step on the moon, in the Sea of Tranquility, was made on July 20, 1969, a mere 66 years after Orville Wright's first flight in an airplane.

The Space Shuttle was the U.S. space program's next generation. Key aspects of the Shuttle's design and performance were based on a rocket-powered space plane, the X-15, the world's first transatmospheric vehicle. The Space Shuttle provided a new method of space flight, taking off like a rocket and landing like an airplane. The Space Shuttle Columbia, the first reusable manned spaceship, initiated the Space Shuttle flight program in April 1981, and a new era for the U.S. space program.


1784 Americans in the newly independent United States made tethered flights in balloons.

1785 An American, John Jeffries, and a Frenchman, Jean Pierre Blanchard, flew across the English Channel in a hydrogen balloon.

1793 Jean Pierre Blanchard made the first manned, untethered balloon ascent in the United States, in Philadelphia.

1830 Charles Ferson Durant, after studying ballooning in France, made his American flying debut in a balloon and began his career as "The American Aeronaut."

1835 Immigrant and aeronaut Richard Clayton set a world distance record for free balloons by flying from Cincinnati, Ohio to Monroe County, Virginia (since 1863, West Virginia).

1844 Author Edgar Allan Poe foisted the hoax of a manned balloon crossing the Atlantic Ocean on the New York Sun and the American public.

1852 A Mr. Kelley made the first balloon ascension west of the Rocky Mountains, in Oakland, California.

1859 Three aeronauts-John Wise, O. Gager, and John La Mountain-flew from St. Louis, Missouri, to Henderson, New York, and set a world distance record.

1861 American military aviation began with Union and Confederate balloonists flying reconnaissance in the American Civil War; in 1861 a Balloon Corps was organized and the coal barge G.W. Parke Custis was converted into the world's first operational aircraft carrier (carrying balloons).

1873 John Wise failed in the first attempted transatlantic crossing by balloon. (The first successful transatlantic balloon voyage was in 1978.)

1883 John J. Montgomery made a glider flight near San Diego, California, apparently the first glider flight in the United States.

1884 The journal Science published a survey of the field of aeronautics, written by engineer Robert H. Thurston of Cornell University.

1894 Octave Chanute, the French-born American engineer, published Progress in Flying Machines.

1896 Octave Chanute began constructing gliders and eventually produced the constant-chord biplane configuration.

1896 Samuel Pierpont Langley of the Smithsonian Institution flew an unmanned, steam-powered aerodrome, a large, heavier-than-air flying machine.

1903 On the coast of North Carolina, on December 17th, Orville Wright flew the first manned, powered, controlled, and sustained flight in an airplane.

1905 The Aero Club of America was organized.

1907 The U.S. Army Signal Corps organized an Aeronautical Division.

1907 Alexander Graham Bell, Glenn Curtiss, and others organized the Aerial Experiment Association.

1908 The Army Signal Corps let a contract for the construction of a Wright Model A biplane, its (and the world's) first military aircraft, which was delivered in 1909 The airplane could fly 40 mph.

1908 The Army received delivery from Thomas Baldwin of its first dirigible.

1909 Glenn Curtiss undertook the design and manufacture of airplanes at his G.H. Curtiss Manufacturing Company in Hammondsport, New York. The Curtiss No. 1 plane was called the Golden Flyer and sold for $5,000.

1909 Wilbur and Orville Wright incorporated the Wright Company in New York State; this company manufactured airplanes at a factory in Dayton, Ohio.

1910 The Navy created the position of Director of Naval Aeronautics, a position filled by Captain W.I. Chambers during three formative years of naval aviation.

1910 Eugene Ely, in a Curtiss biplane, took off from a launch platform aboard the U.S. scout cruiser Birmingham-the first airplane ascension from a floating base.

1911 The Collier Trophy established to be awarded by the Aero Club for the greatest achievement in aviation in America. Glenn L. Curtiss developed the seaplane, initially called a hydroaeroplane, and took off, and landed on water; Curtiss won the first Collier Trophy "for the successful development of the hydroaeroplane."

1911 The Navy acquired its first airplanes; the very first was the Curtiss A-1 Triad, a seaplane that the Navy also operated as a landplane and an amphibian.

1911 Flying a Burgess-Wright biplane named the Vin Fiz after the sponsoring soft drink company, Calbraith P. Rodgers flew from Sheepshead Bay, New York, to Pasadena, California, in the first transcontinental flight across the United States.

1911 The Army Signal Corps' first flying school established in Maryland, and then moved to its permanent location in San Diego in 1912.

1912 The U.S. Marine Corps for the first time sent officers to flight training in Annapolis and thereby qualified the first Marine pilots.

1914 The Signal Corps organized an Aviation Section which included the Aeronautical Division.

1915 Congress passed legislation that established the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), an independent Federal agency, to supervise and direct the scientific study of the problems of flight, with a view to their practical solution.

1916 Congress and President Woodrow Wilson authorized an Aerial Coastal Patrol as an auxiliary of the Coast Guard.

1916 William A. Boeing made his first airplane, designated the B&W after Boeing and his then-partner Conrad Westervelt, a commander in the Navy; later in the year Boeing organized his own company, the Pacific Aero Products Company which evolved into the Boeing Airplane Company; all of these ventures were based in Seattle, Washington.

1916 Malcolm and Allan Loughead (pronounced "Lock-heed" according to early advertisements) organized their second aviation venture and the first of several companies to bear their name-the Loughead Aircraft Manufacturing Company, in Santa Barbara, California.

1916 For the first time the Federal government purchases land for aviation purposes (in Hampton, Virginia), which becomes the Army Signal Corps' Langley Field. A portion of the field was allocated to NACA to build the Federal government's first aeronautical laboratory.

1917 The U.S. enters World War I (April 6,1917). The office of the Chief Signal Officer was responsible for planning the massive expansion of aviation necessitated by war, including producing airplanes and equipment.

1918 The Army removes aviation from the Signal Corps and creates an Army Air Service with two agencies, a Dept. of Military Aeronautics (responsible for training and operations of the air arm) and a Bureau of Aircraft Production (production of aircraft, aircraft engines, and equipment).

1918 The Naval Aircraft Factory at the Philadelphia Navy Yard entered production; the first production aircraft was the Curtiss H-16 flying boat.

1918 The Post Office inaugurated airmail service by flying mail between New York and Washington; initially in cooperation with the Army, the Post Office soon assumed full responsibility for flying airmail.

1919 The Army Air Service begins operations to locate and report fires to the Forest Service. Experimental patrols begin in California and expand to Oregon in 1919.

1919 The first transcontinental airway was established when the Post Office opened a transcontinental route for airmail from New York to San Francisco, using 15 air fields.

1919 The NC-4, a Navy-Curtiss flying boat, became the first airplane to fly across the Atlantic Ocean.

1920 The National Air Races begin. This small race grows in subsequent years to become a major aviation event and encouraged the development of high-speed airplanes.

1920 A pioneer in aerial photography, Sherman M. Fairchild, organized the Fairchild Aerial Camera Corporation which manufactured automatic aerial cameras in New York.

1920 Donald Wills Douglas incorporates his Davis-Douglas Company to design and build airplanes. He begins operations in a rented blimp-hangar in Los Angeles.

1920 Dedication of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics' (NACA) first aeronautical laboratory, the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory, and wind tunnel at Langley Field, Virginia.

1921 Based out of Langley Field, Virginia, Brig. Gen. William (Billy) Mitchell conducted landmark bombing tests on battleships in the Atlantic Ocean, demonstrating their vulnerability to air attack.

1921 The Navy organized a Bureau of Aeronautics, BuAer.

1921 The Navy's first air station for airships became operational at Lakehurst, New Jersey, where the Navy explored lighter-than-air aeronautics until termination of the program in 1961.

1922 The National Aeronautic Association organized by combining the Aero Club of America and the National Air Association. Until 1926 the Aero Club and later the National Aeronautic Association issued pilot licenses in the United States.

1922 G.M. Bellanca introduced his high-speed C.F. monoplane with an enclosed passenger cabin and an open cockpit; the initial aircraft was built by hand in Omaha, Nebraska.

1923 Reuben Hollis Fleet founded the Consolidated Aircraft Corporation, which leased facilities in Greenwich, Rhode Island.

1923 The U.S. Navy wins the Schneider Trophy (established in 1913 to promote the development of high-speed seaplanes) against international competition in Cowes, England. The Navy aircraft won first and second places in the Schneider Cup race and established a new world record for seaplanes with a speed of 169.89 mph for 200 kilometers.

1924 Four Army Air Service pilots completed the first flight around the world. Starting and finishing at Sand Point near Seattle, Washington, they accomplished the circumnavigation in open-cockpit, single-engine airplanes made by the Douglas company. The flight took 175 days and was then the longest air journey in history. They are awarded the Collier Trophy "for having accomplished the first flight around the world."

1925 The Air Mail Act of 1925, also known as the Kelly Act after Congressman Clyde Kelly of Pennsylvania, becomes law. The act authorized the Post Office Department to contract for the carriage of mail (airmail) with commercial air transport companies.

1925 Lt. James (Jimmy) H. Doolittle, a U.S. Air Service pilot, won the Schneider Cup Race flying the Curtiss-R3 C-2 seaplane Racer, and broke the speed record for seaplanes by attaining 245.7 mph, at Baltimore, Maryland.

1925 Commander John Rodgers flew a Navy PN-9 flying boat, a patrol plane built by the Naval Aircraft Factory, 1,730 nautical miles from California to a Pacific island northeast of Hawaii. This flight set a record for nonstop distance, but failed in the attempt to cross the Pacific Ocean.

1926 The Air Commerce Act of 1926 assigned the Department of Commerce responsibility for overseeing development and safe operation of the national air transportation system. The Department established an Aeronautics Branch to regulate and promote aviation.

1926 The Army Air Corps Act establishes the Army Air Corps, with status equal to the infantry, cavalry, and artillery.

1926 Ford introduced the 4-AT trimotor, an all-metal, open-cockpit, enclosed-cabin, eight-passenger transport plane, developed after trimotor designs of Fokker and Stout.

1927 Charles A. Lindbergh, flying the Ryan monoplane Spirit of St. Louis, completed the first solo non-stop crossing of the Atlantic Ocean (New York to Paris). Lindbergh's achievement and personality generated great popular enthusiasm for aviation.

1927 Sherman Fairchild entered aircraft production in Farmingdale, New York, with the FC-2, a five-seat, high-wing, cabin monoplane with folding wings.

1927 The first Lockheed Vega, the S-1, was assembled and flown in southern California; a total of 128 single-engine and high-speed Vegas were produced, built by hand, over several years.

1927 Pan American Airways began its first regular international service, with an exclusive airmail contract on the Miami-Havana route.

1927 The Cessna Aircraft Company organized and began making the cantilever monoplane series of private planes in Wichita, Kansas.

1927 Lieutenants Lester J. Maitland and Albert F. Hegenberger made the first flight from California to Hawaii, in an Army Fokker C-2.

1928 The Aeronautics Branch of the Department of Commerce awarded the Collier Trophy for the development of airways and air navigation facilities.

1929 Lieutenant James Doolittle, flying blind by instrument in the hooded cockpit of a Consolidated NY-2, demonstrated and tested the developing equipment for flying in all weather and all visibility conditions.

1929 The Aeronautical Corporation of America, known by the trade name Aeronca, organized and entered production of the C-2 light plane, an affordable personal airplane.

1929 The Grumman Aircraft Engineer Corporation was incorporated.

1929 The Goodyear-Zeppelin Corporation constructed an airdock in Akron, Ohio, to support the development of a commercial airship industry in the United States.

1930 Taylor Aircraft, under the leadership of William T. Piper, introduced the E-2 Cub, a two-seat light plane with enclosed cockpit, which became popular with flight schools and private pilots.

1930 Western Air Express and Transcontinental Air Transport merged into the new Transcontinental and Western Air, (TWA; renamed Trans World Airlines in 1950).

1930 The U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey issued its first sectional map made specifically for aeronautical use. The 87th and final section appeared in 1936 and completed the chart of the entire country.

1932 Walter Beech organized the Beech Aircraft Company in Wichita, Kansas, and flight-tested his streamlined model 17-R, a biplane with negatively staggered wings.

1933 The Commerce Department's Aeronautics Branch and the federal Civil Works Administration initiated a nationwide program of airport development, a relief program aimed at employing people during the Great Depression.

1934 Senator Hugo Black of Alabama led a Congressional investigation of the national scandal of fraud in airmail contacts; President Franklin D. Roosevelt canceled airmail contracts; the Army Air Corps flew the mail for several months; commercial carriers of airmail reorganized; and the Post Office awarded new airmail contracts.

1934 The Department of Commerce reorganized its aviation activities and changed the name of its Aeronautics Branch to Bureau of Air Commerce.

1935 Amelia Earhart became the first pilot to fly solo between the mainland and Hawaii.

1935 Flying a Martin clipper ship, Pan American inaugurated scheduled airmail service across the Pacific Ocean; in 1936 the airline began scheduled passenger service on the same route.

1935 Boeing introduced and completed the first flights of the four-engine Model 299 bomber, prototype of the B-17.

1936 The Douglas Sleeper Transport (known as the DST) for transcontinental service, and the day transport version, the DC-3 (without sleeping berths), entered service with American Airlines. They offered greater speed and comfort than other airlines. The DC-3 became the world's most successful airliner until the jet age.

1937 After a flight from Frankfurt, Germany, and during landing operations at Lakehurst, New Jersey, the airship Hindenburg exploded; thirty-six people died, and commercial transport by airship lost public confidence.

1937 Based in Pennsylvania, William T. Piper changed the name of Taylor Aircraft to Piper.

1937 Amelia Earhart, flying a Lockheed Electra, disappeared on the New Guinea to Howland Island segment of an intended round-the-world flight.

1937 The Army Air Corps' first B-17 was delivered to Langley Field for service testing.

1938 The Civil Aeronautics Act of 1938 replaced the Commerce Department's Bureau of Air Commerce with an independent Civil Aeronautics Authority, and recognized airlines as common carriers.

1939 Flying a Boeing 314 flying boat, Pan American inaugurated scheduled transatlantic service.

1939 The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association was founded.

1939 The Civil Aeronautics Authority began a Civilian Pilot Training Program that provided training to over 400,000 pilots by the close of the program in 1944 (by which time it was called the War Training Service).

1939 The Army Air Corps undergoes an unprecedented expansion due to the war in Europe.

1940 Boeing's pressurized Model 307 entered commercial service, but the war interrupted the spread of pressurized commercial aircraft.

1940 The Civil Aeronautics Authority, an independent agency, became the Civil Aeronautics Administration, a part of the Department of Commerce.

1940 Congress approved the Development of Landing Areas for National Defense, or DLAND program, the first airport construction project directly administered by the federal agency for civil aviation, a program that funded construction at 535 airports during the World War II.

1941 The Civil Aeronautics Administration assumed operation of airport traffic control.

1941 The War Department created the Army Air Forces in June; the predecessor Army Air Corps was discontinued in March 1942.

1941 In June, the Civil Aeronautics Administration changed the system for numbering runways to the method of indicating-with the addition of a zero-the compass heading of a runway during takeoff or landing.

1941 Within the Office of Civil Defense, the Civil Air Patrol was established in December.

1941 On December 7, Japanese carrier-based airplanes attack American military installations in Hawaii and the Philippines, leading to America's entry in World War II.

1941 The United States and its air forces fought in World War II. During the war the United States produced 300,000 airplanes, 700,000 propellers, and 800,000 aircraft engines. Military contracts with commercial airlines provided domestic airlines, in addition to Pan American, with international air transport experience. Domestically, the Army accounted for 85% of all activity on the nation's airways. Military aircraft and avionics were rapidly developed.

1942 The Civilian Pilot Training Program became the War Training Service.

1942 Grumman produced and flew the first production F6F Hellcat fighter planes, which entered combat action in 1943, and thereafter destroyed more enemy aircraft than any other airplane of the war.

1943 The Civil Air Patrol transferred from the Office of Civil Defense to the War Department.

1944 The Boeing B-29 bomber entered combat service on raids against Bangkok and Japan in June; this Superfortress was a long-range bomber, pressurized, with remote-controlled gun turrets, with wing loading in excess of previous experience, and the world's heaviest production airplane.

1945 On August 6, at 8:15 A.M. (Japanese time) an American B-29, the Enola Gay, dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city and military base of Hiroshima. The bomb, with an explosive force of 20,000 tons of TNT, destroyed over four square miles of the city and killed or injured over 160,000 people. Three days later, an atomic bomb was dropped on the Japanese city and naval base of Nagasaki. On August 14th, the Japanese accepted the Allies terms of surrender.

1945 Luis W. Alvarez of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology won the Collier Trophy for his role in developing ground controlled approach, a ground-based radar and controller system for landing aircraft.

1946 The Army Air Forces established the Strategic Air Command and the Tactical Air Command.

1947 The United States created the Department of the Air Force as a military branch equal to the departments of the Army and Navy, all under the Department of Defense.

1947 While flying the rocket-powered Bell XS-1 research plane out of Muroc Army Airfield (later renamed Edwards Air Force Base) in California, Capt. Charles "Chuck" Yeager exceeded the speed of sound in level flight (670 MPH or Mach 1.06).

1947 The Collier Trophy awarded to John Stack, NACA research scientist, for pioneering research to determine the physical laws affecting supersonic flight and for his conception of transonic research airplanes; to Lawrence D. Bell, President of Bell Aircraft Corp., for the design and construction of the research airplane X-1; and the Capt. Charles E. Yeager, who with that airplane, first achieved human flight faster than sound.

1947 Braniff became the first airline to use the instrument landing system adopted as the primary landing aid of the Civil Aeronautics Administration.

1947 The journals Aviation, begun in 1938, and Aviation News, founded in 1943, merged to create Aviation Week.

1948 The Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics issued a report recommending a common civil-military navigation system consisting of very-high-frequency omniranges (VORs) and distance measuring equipment (DMEs), as well as airborne transponders, ground-based radar for airport surveillance (ASR) and precision approach (PAR), and instrument landing system (ILS).

1948 Albert W. Mooney organized the Mooney Aircraft Corporation; based in Wichita, Kansas, this company's first product was the M-18 single-seat, low-wing monoplane with retractable tricycle gear.

1950 The first very-high-frequency omnirange (VOR) airways, called Victor airways, became operational.

1950 United States military forces engaged in the Korean Conflict (1950-1953). The first jet-to-jet air combat occurred.

1952 Boeing began production of the four-engine, jet-powered B-52 Stratofortress bomber. After production ceased in 1962, post-production modifications improved the structural and electronic features of the B-52 and extended its operational usefulness.

1952 Airport surface detection equipment went into a successful trial operation in an effort to curb congestion on the ground at airports.

1952 The International Civil Aviation Organization adopted a standardized, English-based, international phonetic alphabet.

1953 The American Medical Association recognized aviation medicine as a specialty and certification of qualified physicians in the specialty.

1954 Military aviation missions during the Vietnam Conflict included reconnaissance, transport, support and rescue, as well as offensive and carrier operations.

1955 Lockheed began flight testing its new U-2 spy plane, an high-altitude, intelligence-gathering, jet-powered airplane, given the U for utility designation to mask its real purpose.

1957 Both the Soviet Union and the United States had satellite projects as parts of their national programs for the International Geophysical Year, and the Soviets successful launch of the first artificial satellite-Sputnik-into orbit around the Earth spurs America to increase dramatically its space program.

1958 Congress created the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) as a military space program, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) as the civilian space agency exercising control over aeronautical and space activities, and the National Aeronautics and Space Council (an advisory body of all agencies concerned with space) reporting to the President.

1958 Congress reorganized the federal administration of civil aviation with the abolishment of the Civil Aeronautics Administration and the creation of the independent Federal Aviation Agency (FAA).

1958 The Boeing 707 jet liner (America's first commercial jet) introduced; Pan American Airways initiated transatlantic passenger jet service; the 707 entered the jet transport market already served by the British Comet.

1958 The Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) created to regulate all commercial and military aviation in the U.S.

1959 The Douglas DC-8 jet liner received federal certification; Douglas produced 556 DC-8s before ending production of that model in 1972.

1959 The X-15 research plane made its first powered flight, eventually attaining records for altitude and speed for winged aircraft that were unbroken until the space shuttle Columbia's first orbital flight in 1981.

1960 NASA launched its first meteorological satellites, Tiros I in April and Tiros II in November.

1960 The Glenn L. Martin company delivered its last airplane and shifted its business to the space and missile fields; Glenn Martin had built airplanes in California starting in 1908, in Ohio starting in 1918, and Maryland starting in 1929.

1961 The Air Force continued flight testing the experimental X-15A airplane, including one flight to an altitude of 169,600 feet and another flight attaining the speed of 4,093 miles per hour.

1961 Alan B. Shepard, in May, aboard a Mercury capsule, became the first American in space-twenty three days after Yuri Gagarin of the Soviet Union became the first man in space.

1962 John H. Glenn orbited the Earth three times in a Mercury capsule and became the first American to orbit Earth.

1962 The Cuban Missile Crisis prompted the United States to speed the installation and operational status of Minuteman missiles.

1963 The prototype of the Boeing 727 jet transport was flown and tested.

1963 William J. Lear's prototype Model 23 Lear Jet made its initial flights near the Wichita, Kansas, base of his new operations. Out of the Model 23 evolved the production Model 24 and Model 25 business jets.

1964 American pilots Jerrie Mock and Joan Merriam became the first and second, respectively, women to fly solo around the world.

1964 A sailplane piloted by A.H. Parker set a distance record of 1,040 kilometers (646 miles), the first sailplane distance record over 1,000 kilometers.

1965 The United States launched Gemini spacecraft numbers 3 through 7, each with a two-man crew, into orbit.

1966 NASA's Surveyor I lunar probe made a controlled, soft landing on the Moon. 1966 The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) was organized as an independent safety board with accident investigation responsibility.

1967 In a tragic accident, the crew of Apollo 1, U.S. astronauts Virgil I. Grissom, Edward H. White, and Roger Chaffee, were killed when a flash fire swept their craft on the launch pad at Cape Kennedy (January 27, 1967).

1967 The McDonnell Company and the Douglas Aircraft Company merged to form the McDonnell Douglas Corporation.

1967 The Federal Aviation Agency, an independent agency, became the Federal Aviation Administration, part of the Department of Transportation.

1968 Boeing and General Electric worked to develop the airplane and engines, respectively, for an American SST, supersonic transport.

1968 Lockheed introduced its new C-5A Galaxy, capable of airlifting heavy military equipment and powered by the world's first high-bypass-ratio turbofan engine in service.

1969 NASA's Apollo 11 mission reached the Moon, and astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the Moon.

1970 The Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet entered commercial service; normal loading and unloading techniques had been modified for this large-capacity, wide-bodied aircraft.

1970 The Airport and Airway Development Act expanded federal aid to airport and airway development and changed the method of funding such development to aviation-user taxes.

1971 The McDonnell Douglas DC-10 entered commercial service; like the Boeing 747, the DC-10 was a commercial outgrowth of the military C-5 cargo competition won by Lockheed.

1971 Congress terminated the SST, supersonic transport, program. (The British SST, called the Concorde, continued in development and entered commercial service in 1976.)

1972 After several years of tension between the Federal Aviation Administration and controllers organized (since 1968) in the Professional Air Traffic Controller Organization, Congress passed the Air Traffic Controller Career Act.

1972 The Lockheed 1011 TriStar entered commercial service, one year after Congress provided financial relief in the form of a government loan to the troubled company.

1973 General Dynamics introduced two prototype YF-16 lightweight fighter planes.

1974 The National Space and Aeronautics Administration awarded the development contract for a Spacelab orbiting laboratory to a nine-nation consortium.

1976 Two Air Force pilots fly a Lockheed SR-71A reconnaissance aircraft to a new world speed record of 3,529.56 kilometers per hour (2,193.17 miles per hour).

1976 The Concorde, a supersonic transport developed by a British-French consortium, began to fly routes between Europe and the United States (Washington, D.C., and New York City), and demonstrated the strength of foreign competition in the aviation industry.

1978 Eastern Airlines placed an order for A-300 transports made by the European consortium Airbus and thereby highlighted the increasing foreign competition faced by manufacturers in the United States.

1978 The Federal Government began deregulating commercial airline operations.

1979 General Dynamics lightweight F-16 entered Air Force service; commonality of engine and armament with the McDonnell Douglas F-15 promised economies to the Air Force.

1981 The Space Shuttle Columbia, the first reusable manned spaceship, initiated the Space Shuttle flight program, and begins a new era for the U.S. space program.

1981 Air traffic controllers went on strike and the Federal Aviation Administration dismissed striking controllers; disruption of air traffic control operations continued until replacements acquired training and experience.

1982 Amidst an airline recession, Braniff International terminated operations; it emerged briefly from bankruptcy in 1984.

1986 The Space Shuttle Challenger exploded after lift-off, killing the seven crew members.

1988 The National Space and Aeronautics Administration resumed Space Shuttle missions.

1989 The Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk, a stealth fighter-bomber, made its combat debut when the United States invaded Panama.

1990 The United States employed fighters, bombers, tankers, helicopters, transports, and missiles during Desert Storm, the war to liberate Kuwait from an Iraqi invasion.

1991 Pan American ceased operations.

1994 The General Aviation Revitalization Act limited the liability of general aviation manufacturers to 18 years. The Act enables Cessna to renter single-engine aircraft production and helped the renamed New Piper Aircraft company to emerge from bankruptcy.

1995 The Lockheed and Martin Marietta corporations merged into a new Lockheed Martin Corporation.




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