Friday, June 4, 2010

Famous Firsts

Throughout aviation history there were famous people. The fame that they achieved was earned. There were also people that were behind the scenes. The ones that were behind the scenes were the unsung heroes. Technology with regards to aviation and aerospace has advanced at a rapid pace. The following are some examples of famous firsts.

The Wright Brothers were the first to fly a heavier-than-air airplane but they didn’t do it alone. Without the Weather Service they wouldn’t have known the location in the United States that had constant moderate to heavy winds so they could test there gliders. They corresponded with others such as Octave Chanute. Without the help of Charlie Taylor, there mechanician they wouldn’t have had an engine to power their airplane. The Wright Brothers didn’t attend an Aeronautical University because one did not exist. They built there own wind tunnel and they designed and made there own propellers. NASA tested them and they were found to be 80% efficient (today’s are only 85%). The Wright Brothers had been told that they were crazy and that man was not meant to fly but they both persisted. They did not give up.

Charles Lindbergh deserves all the fame and accolades that were bestowed upon him when he made his solo crossing of the Atlantic Ocean at the age of 25. But he didn’t do it alone either. He had financial backers to fund his flight. Also, without the designers, engineers, and craftsman the airplane he flew wouldn’t exist. There were many detractors and naysayers. But he was a persistent man. He was told that he needed a multi-engine plane and he said that wasn’t necessary

Chuck Yeager was the first man to break the sound barrier. He was 24-years old at the time. He would not have been able to do so without the people from NACA (the precursor to NASA), or the U.S. Air Force. The Bell X-1 which he flew wouldn’t exist without the designers, engineers, craftsman, and technicians at Bell Aircraft. Hundreds of people were behind his endeavor. The aircraft was shaped like a .50 caliber bullet and was built exceptionally strong. People at the time were saying that the sound barrier was a physical barrier that could not be broken, and even if it was it would lead to the destruction of the aircraft and fatality for the pilot.

Neil Armstrong was the first man to step onto the moon. Without thousands and thousands of people in NASA (scientists and engineers) and all of the contractors and sub-contractors that built all of the hardware (Saturn V rocket, Lunar Module, Command Module, etc., etc.) he would not have been able to make that most famous of steps. We also cannot forget the Mercury Program with the famous original seven astronauts. Then there was the Gemini Program that had two astronauts in a capsule. Then the Apollo Program with three astronauts on each flight. Even with the horrific fatal fire in 1967 of Apollo 1 on the launch pad with the loss of the three astronauts (Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee) the program went forward.

The events that these individuals were involved in that changed aviation history and world history came down to the following famous dates:

Thursday December 17, 1903 at 10:35am for the Wright Brothers.

Saturday and Sunday May 20-21, 1927 for Charles Lindbergh.

Tuesday October 14, 1947 for Chuck Yeager.

Sunday July 20, 1969 at 10:56:15pm EDT for Neil Armstrong.

After each of the above pivotal events in aviation and space there were many, many technological advances and discoveries. After the Wright Brothers made there famous flight in 1903 many other aviation inventors and pioneers from around the world created, discovered and made great strides in aviation. By the way, the speed of the Wright Flyer on that historic flight was 6.8 miles per hour. The same goes for innovations and technological breakthroughs during and after World War I. After Charles Lindbergh made his solo crossing of the Atlantic Ocean in 1927 in 33-1/2 hours, time and distance became shorter and shorter and the world started to become a much smaller place. During and after World War II more and more technological achievements were made. After the sound barrier was broken in 1947 faster and faster aircraft (military and civilian) were created.

And here are two examples of that:

On September 1, 1974 a U.S. Air Force SR-71 “Blackbird” spy plane flew from New York to London in 1-hour, 54-minutes, 56.4-seconds.

On February 7, 1996 a supersonic transport (SST) called Concorde and flown by the British Airways airline, crossed the Atlantic Ocean from London to New York in the record time of 2-hours, 52-minutes, 59-seconds.

And the technology spinoffs from the space program are almost too many to count. The drive to discover, create, innovate and succeed is awe inspiring. These famous firsts will not be forgotten and I am sure there will be many more famous firsts to come in aviation and aerospace.