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Wings - The Formative Years



At the end of this block of study, you should be able to:

5.57 Discuss the contributions the Wright brothers continued to make to aviation.
5.58 Discuss the role of Glenn Curtiss in bringing aviation to the public's awareness.
5.59 Discuss the aviation accomplishments of Calbraith Rodgers and Harriet Quimby.

The Wright brothers continued flying in 1904 and 1905: during this time they flew in a pasture just outside Dayton, Ohio. They changed and perfected their flying machine to a point that in October 1905 they made a flight which lasted 38 minutes and covered over 24 miles. It ended only when the fuel was exhausted. During this period, they attempted three times to sell their invention to the United States government. They also went to Europe to sell their invention but here, too, they were turned away. For two and a half years, from late 1905 until early 1908, their attempts to interest people in their flying machine were unsuccessful. Then the situation suddenly changed. In February 1908, the U.S. War Department accepted a bid from the Wrights to build an airplane for military use, and only a month later, the Wrights signed a $100,000 contract to form a French company.

Wilbur sailed for Europe, and from August through December 1908, he astounded all the European aviators with his skill and the ease with which the Flyer performed. Meanwhile, Orville had remained behind to conduct flight tests for the Army. The Army contract called for a machine that could carry two men and fly at least ten miles nonstop at an average speed of 40 mph. One of the machines was modified so that two people could ride seated on the lower wing.

Orville Wright began his tests at Fort Myer, Virginia. His first flight, on September 2, 1908, astounded official Washington. During the next two weeks, Orville completed 11 more flights. On September 17, tragedy struck. While carrying Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge, a propeller broke and the airplane crashed killing Selfridge and seriously injuring Orville. After recovering from his injuries, Orville completed the tests, and the Army signed a contract to have the Wrights build the first Army heavier-than-aircraft.

While the Wright brothers were trying to sell their aircraft, another aviation pioneer entered the scene. Glenn Curtiss became interested in aviation in 1906. He received much information from the Wrights and from other aviators in Europe. In 1907, Curtiss and Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, founded an organization called the Aerial Experiment Association. This organization designed and built several aircraft, the most famous being the June Bug. On July 4, 1908, Curtiss flew the plane more than a mile in the first public demonstration of flight in America. This flight took place in New York.

In 1911, the first transcontinental flight across the United States was made. The pilot was Calbraith P. Rodgers, flying a special-built Wright biplane named the Vin Fiz Flyer. The flight was made from New York to Pasadena, California, and required 49 days to complete. Rodgers made 69 stops during the 3,220-mile journey. Also in 1911, Glenn Curtiss built the first successful U.S. seaplane and, following its demonstration, two of these craft were ordered by the U.S. Navy. In August of 1911, Harriet Quimby became the first woman in the United States to receive a pilot's certificate.



At the end of this block of study, you should be able to:

5.60 Discuss the contributions of Louis Bleriot and Alberto Santos-Dumont to aviation in Europe.
5.61 State the importance of the 1909 International Air Meet held in Reims, France
5.62 Discuss the United States' attitude toward aviation during this period.

In 1906, Alberto Santos-Dumont flew the first powered aircraft in Europe. His aircraft, which looked like two huge box kites, was successfully flown in Paris on October 23, 1906. Two weeks later, he again flew his aircraft - this time traveling 722 feet. Unlike what happened in the United States, the press reported this flight, and all of Europe was excited by the news.

In 1907, Louis Bleriot, after experimenting with biwinged gliders, built and flew the world's first powered monoplane.

In 1909, there were two events which attracted worldwide attention to aviation. The first was the flight across the English Channel performed by Bleriot in his small monoplane, and the second was the first International Air Meet held in Reims, France. The Wrights did not attend this meet, but several of their aircraft were present. Virtually every aviation pioneer in Europe and some from the United States participated. In all, there were over 40 aircraft in the air meet. If the usefulness of flight was in doubt before, the air meet at Reims demonstrated to the world that the airplane was here to stay.

Unfortunately, the nation which had given birth to aviation still looked on the airplane as a toy. While aviation industries were springing up all over Europe, aircraft in the United States were still largely built by hand.



At the end of this block of study, you should be able to:

5.63 Discuss the early development of the helicopter.

While the balloon and airplane pioneers were building their flying machines, other men were experimenting in another area of flight. These men dreamed of being able to take off and land vertically and control their aircraft while in flight.

In a fixed-wing aircraft, the forward motion of the aircraft causes the wing to move through the air and produce lift. There is another method of moving the wing through the air which is used on helicopters. The large rotor on top of the helicopter is composed of a number of blades Each of these rotor blades is a wing. As the rotor whirls, the blades move through the air causing helicopters are called rotary-wing aircraft because the wings (blades) rotate.

The first helicopter to lift a man into the air was flown in 1907. This machine was built and own by a Frenchman named Louis Breguet. Although it lifted him, it was held steady by four assistants. In the same year, another Frenchman, Paul Cornu, also flew a helicopter. In 1909, a father and son—Emile and Henry Berliner—became the first Americans to build and fly a helicopter.

All of these early experiments were plagued y problems in control of the helicopter while in flight. The major control problem to be overcome was counteracting the torque (a turning, twisting force) of the rotor blade. When the rotor of a helicopter is turning, the rest of the machine tends to spin In the opposite direction. One way to overcome the torque is to have two rotors which rotate in opposite directions. Another is to provide a small propeller at the end of a long tail boom which provides thrust to counteract the torque of the main rotor. This proem of control would continue to haunt designers for more than 30 years before being.


WORLD WAR I (1914-1918)

At the end of this block of study, you should be able to:

5.64 Define the term ace.
5.65 Discuss the condition of American aviation during World War I.
5.66 Know the main lesson taught by World War I.

Although air power in World War I played only a minor role in the outcome of the conflict, it was the foundation for employment of air power for future wars. Historically, the greatest progress in flight is made during times when either war or the threat of war is present. In 1914, when the war started, the airplane had an average speed of 70 to 80 mph and a ceiling of about 10,000 feet. By the time the war ended, the speed had increased to between 140 and 150 mph and a ceiling of 24,000 feet.

During the early part of the war, the airplane was used mainly for reconnaissance, but as the war progressed, airplanes developed into fighters and bombers.

With the development of the fighter, a new type of hero was created. As aerial combat increased, the French developed a method of recognition for pilots who shot down several enemy aircraft. They coined the term ace for a pilot who shot down ten enemy aircraft. This same number was adopted by the British and Germans. The United States, entering the war late, used five kills to designate an ace because the thought was the war would end before any American could shoot down ten enemy aircraft.

Although the war began in 1914, the United States did not enter the war until 1917. The country did not use the time wisely before entering; Congress boasted that America would "darken the skies over Europe with U.S. aircraft." However, not a single U.S. designed combat aircraft was used in action during the war*, and instead of 263 promised squadrons, only 45 were committed before the war ended.

Because World War I was fought in Europe, the American public was isolated from the actual battlefield. Except for the American troops serving in Europe, Americans were unaware of the increasing importance of air power during the war. Therefore, when the war ended, the United States was the only nation involved in the war that had not learned the most important lesson taught by World War I—If you control the air, you cannot be beaten; If you lose the air, you cannot win.


* The following observation is made by Mr. Robert Allen, a visitor the the ALLSTAR website.
This statement was made by a political commission after the war, and specifically referred to the United States Air Service, the US Army branch of the US air arm. For this service, the statement is true. However, several Curtiss-designed flying-boats saw combat with both the US Navy and Britain's Royal Naval Air Service and RAF. These
included the H-4, H-12, and H-16, which saw significant service with Britain, and the HS, which became the first operational aircraft used by the US Navy in France, the first of 182 aircraft used there arriving at the US Navy base at Pauillac on May 24, 1918. These aircraft were generally used for coastal reconnaisance and patrol and should be counted as combat airplanes.


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Updated: 12 March, 2004