The History of Aviation in the United States (1901-59)

Aviation in the United States has a long history which began with the use of experimental gliders as the base for the construction of crafts that were heavier-than-air. Advancements in aerodynamics and engine technology in the early 20th century meant that it was now possible to have powered flight for the first time. As a result of these developments, it was a general expectation that it would lead to the elaboration of a powerful engine that would be a game changer in aviation. In this essay, I will provide a brief history of aviation in the United States from 1901 to 1959.

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In 1901, Gustave Whitehead, a recent immigrant from Germany built an early flying machine. On August 14th, he went on to carry out a flight in it on a Number 21 monoplane while making his usual runs in Fairland, Connecticut. Many aviation experts agree that it was the first heavier-than-air craft to make a successful flight in the Americas.

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After four years of research, brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright successfully built a 120-foot aircraft in 1903 that was able to make a 12-second light demo at Kitty Hawk in North Carolina. In 1904, a year after their groundbreaking feat, they made improvements to their original Flyer to produce Flyer II. During this period, the Wright Brothers were the only Americans who had extensive knowledge concerning larger-than-air crafts or aviation.

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In 1908, Charles Furnas became Orville Wright’s first passenger, marking the official beginning of aviation in the United States. It was from this initial trial that the establishment of the first air service was born on 1st January 1914 (Brady, 2000, p.23). Inventor Glenn Curtis was responsible for designing a plane capable of taking off from land and landing on water. It was made possible by the absence of a heavy under carriage necessary for landing on the ground.

By the beginning of 1917, the U.S government was of the opinion that development of planes had made enough progress and that it was now possible to transport mail by air. More than $100,000 was set aside for this joint venture between the Post Office and the Army with the first flight taking place on May 14th in 1918. At the beginning of 1921, the Army was responsible for deploying rotating beacons between Colombus and Dayton County in Ohio to guide pilots at night while transporting mail.

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In 1925, there was the introduction of the Contract Air Mail Act as the government did not want to continue with the service alone. It was thus able to transfer the air mail aviation service to the private sector and lessening its burden. The Air Commerce Act of 1926 came soon after and was meant to designate air routes license pilots, develop aviation navigation systems and investigate accidents. Later in 1927, Charles Lindbergh made a momentous flight across the Atlantic Ocean, traveling from New York City to Paris. It became the first trans-Atlantic flight made non-stop in an airplane.

The Watres Act of 1930 that was the creation of Walter Brown also had a significant impact on air transport as it went ahead to streamline the system, creating a stronger airline. Building the first control tower took place in 1935 where Newark International Airport presently stands to aid pilots in navigation. The government had to show its commitment to aviation as one of the technological breakthroughs, passing the Civil Aeronautics Act of 1938 that would also create a central agency (Civil Aeronautics Act) to deal with matters aviation. In 1942, the Second World War saw the improvement of aircraft and their mass production due to the conflict that was raging on.  In 1958, the United States government implemented the Federal Aviation Act after a collision between two aircraft in 1956 over the Grand Canyon and was responsible for claiming 128 lives (Stich, 2010, p. 395).  Its purpose was to decongest the skies and prevent such a tragic aviation accident from occurring in future.

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