Air Travel

Flight History

Humanity has been fascinated with the possibility of flight for millennia. The history of flight began at least as early as about ad 400 with historical references to a Chinese kite that used a rotary wing as a source of lift. Other toys using the principle of the helicopter—in this case a rotary blade turned by the pull of a string—were known during the Middle Ages. During the latter part of the 15th century, Leonardo da Vinci made drawings pertaining to flight. In the 1700s experiments were made with the ornithopter, a machine with flapping wings.

The history of successful flight begins with the hot-air balloon. Jn southwestern France, two brothers, Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier, papermakers, experimented with a large cell contrived of paper in which they could collect heated air. On 19 Sep 1783 the Montgolfiers sent aloft a balloon with a rooster, a duck, and a sheep, and on 21 November the first manned flight was made. Balloons gained importance as their flights increased into hundreds of miles, but they were essentially unsteerable.

Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, a former military man, spent much of his life after retiring in 1890 working with balloons, particularly on the steering problem. As his experimentation continued, hydrogen and illuminating gas were substituted for hot air, and a motor was mounted on a bag filled with gas that had been fitted with propellers and rudders. It was Zeppelin who first saw clearly that maintaining a steerable shape was essential, so he created a rigid but light frame. On 2 Jul 1900 Zeppelin undertook the first experimental flight of what he called an airship. The development of the dirigible went well until the docking procedure at Lakehurst NJ on 6 May 1937, when the Hindenburg burst into flames and exploded, with a loss of 36 lives. Public feeling about the craft made further development futile.

It should be remembered, however, that neither balloons nor dirigibles had produced true flight: what they had done was harness the dynamics of the atmosphere to lift a craft off the ground, using what power (if any) they supplied primarily to steer. The first scientific exposition of the principles that ultimately led to the successful flight with a heavier-than-air device came in 1843 from Sir George Cayley, who is also regarded by many as the father of fixed-wing flight. It was Cayley who built the successful man-carrying glider that came closest to permitting real flight. Cayley’s work was built upon in the experiments and writings on gliders from the late 1800s by aviation pioneers Otto Lilienthal of Germany and Octave Chanute of the United States. The works of Cayley, Lilienthal, and Chanute would eventually inspire and form the basis of the Wright brothers’ work.

The Americans Wilbur and Orville Wright by 1902 had developed a fully practical biplane glider that could be controlled in every direction. Fitting a small engine and two propellers to another biplane, the Wrights on 17 Dec 1903 made the world’s first successful flight of a man-carrying, engine-powered, heavier-than-air craft at a site near Kitty Hawk NC.

The Wright brothers’ success soon inspired successful aircraft designs and flights by others, and World War I (1914-18) further accelerated the expansion of aviation. Though initially used for aerial reconnaissance, aircraft were soon fitted with machine guns to shoot at other aircraft and with bombs to drop on ground targets; military aircraft with these types of missions and armaments became known, respectively, as fighters and bombers.

By the 1920s the first small commercial airlines had begun to carry mail, and the increased speed and range of aircraft made nonstop flights over the world’s oceans, poles, and continents possible. In the 1930s more efficient monoplane aircraft with an all-metal fuselage and a retractable undercarriage became standard. Aircraft played a key role in World War II (1939-45), developing in size, weight, speed, power, range, and armament. The war marked the high point of piston-engined propeller craft while also introducing the first aircraft with jet engines, which could fly at higher speeds. Jet-engined craft became the norm for fighters in the late 1940s and proved their superiority as commercial transports beginning in the ’50s. The high speeds and low operating costs of jet airliners led to a massive expansion of commercial air travel in the second half of the 20th century.

The next great aviation innovation after the jet engine was aircraft able to fly at supersonic speeds. The first was a Bell XS-1 rocket-powered research plane piloted by Maj. Charles E. Yeager of the US Air Force on 14 Oct 1947. The XS-1 broke the sound barrier at 1,066 km/hr (662 mph) and attained a top speed of 1,126 km/hr (700 mph). Thereafter many military aircraft capable of supersonic flight were built. The first supersonic passenger-carrying commercial airplane, the Concorde, was built jointly by aircraft manufacturers in Great Britain and France and was in regular commercial service between 1976 and 2003. In the 21st century aircraft manufacturers strove to produce larger planes. A huge new passenger airliner, the double-decker Airbus A380, with a passenger capacity of 555 (40% greater than the next largest airplane), began commercial flights in late October 2007.

Airlines in the US: Best On-Time Arrival Performance


 

AIRLINE % OF ALL FLIGHTS

 

AIRLINE % OF ALL FLIGHTS

 

AIRLINE % OF ALL FLIGHTS

1

Hawaiian Airlines

90.5

8

Pinnacle Airlines

80.4

14

Northwest Airlines

75.9

2

SkyWest Airlines

84.0

9

JetBlue Airways

77.0

15

Comair

75.3

3

Southwest Airlines

83.3

10

Atlantic Southeast

77.0

16

American Eagle

74.4

4

Frontier Airlines

82.1

 

Airlines

 

 

Airlines

 

5

Alaska Airlines

81.6

11

Delta Air Lines

76.8

17

Mesa Airlines

73.2

6

US Airways

81.3

12

ExpressJet Airlines

76.5

18

United Airlines

72.8

7

AirTran Airways

81.1

13

Continental Airlines

76.5

19

American Airlines

65.3

US Aviation Safety, 1988-2007

2007 data are preliminary.

 

 

US AIRLINES1

 

 

US GENERAL AVIATION

 

 

 

NO. OF

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ACCIDENTS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NO. OF

WITH

TOTAL NO.

HOURS

ALL

FATAL

TOTAL

HOURS

YEAR

ACCIDENTS

FATALITIES

OF DEATHS

FLOWN

ACCIDENTS

ACCIDENTS

FATALITIES

FLOWN

1988

30

3

285

11,140,548

2,388

460

797

27,446,000

1989

28

11

278

11,274,543

2,242

432

769

27,920,000

1990

24

6

39

12,150,116

2,242

444

770

28,510,000

1991

26

4

62

11,780,610

2,197

439

800

27,678,000

1992

18

4

33

12,359,715

2,111

451

867

24,780,000

1993

23

1

1

12,706,206

2,064

401

744

22,796,000

1994

23

4

239

13,124,315

2,021

404

730

22,235,000

1995

36

3

168

13,505,257

2,056

413

735

24,906,000

1996

37

5

380

13,746,112

1,908

361

636

24,881,000

1997

49

4

8

15,838,109

1,844

350

631

25,591,000

1998

50

1

1

16,816,555

1,905

365

625

25,518,000

1999

51

2

12

17,555,208

1,905

340

619

29,246,000

2000

56

3

92

18,299,257

1,837

345

596

27,838,000

2001

46

6

531

17,814,191

1,727

325

562

25,431,000

2002

41

0

0

17,290,198

1,715

345

581

25,545,000

2003

54

2

22

17,467,700

1,740

352

633

25,998,000

2004

30

2

14

18,882,503

1,617

314

559

24,888,000

2005

40

3

22

19,390,029

1,670


321

563

23,168,000

2006

33

2

50

19,263,209

1,518

306

703

23,963,000

2007

26

1

1

19,305,000

1,631

284

491

23,835,000

World’s Busiest Airports

Ranked by total aircraft movement (takeoffs and landings), 2007.

 

\

 

AIRPORT

TOTAL

RANK

AIRPORT

LOCATION

CODE

MOVEMENTS

1

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta

Atlanta GA

ATL

994,346

 

International Airport

 

 

 

2

O’Hare International Airport

Chicago IL

ORD

927,834

3

Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport

Dallas/Fort Worth TX

DFW

684,779

4

Los Angeles International Airport

Los Angeles CA

LAX

681,445

5

Denver International Airport

Denver CO

DEN

614,169

6

McCarran International Airport

Las Vegas NV

LAS

609,472

7

George Bush Intercontinental Airport

Houston TX

IAH

603,836

8

Paris Charles de Gaulle International Airport

Paris, France

CDG

552,721

9

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport

Phoenix AZ

PHX

538,063

10

Charlotte Douglas International Airport

Charlotte NC

CLT

522,541

11

Philadelphia International Airport

Philadelphia PA

PHL

498,963

12

Frankfurt Airport

Frankfurt, Germany

FRA

492,569

13

Madrid Barajas International Airport

Madrid, Spain

MAD

483,284

14

Heathrow Airport

London, UK

LHR

481,356

15

Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport

Detroit MI

DTW

467,230

16

Amsterdam Airport Schiphol

Amsterdam, Netherlands

AMS

454,357

17

Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport

Minneapolis/St. Paul MN

MSP

450,337

18

Newark Liberty International Airport

Newark NJ

EWR

443,952

19

John F. Kennedy International Airport

New York NY

JFK

443,004

20

Munich International Airport

Munich, Germany

MUC

431,815

21

Toronto Pearson International Airport

Toronto, ON, Canada

YYZ

425,513

22

Salt Lake City International Airport

Salt Lake City UT

SLC

414,395

23

Beijing Capital International Airport

Beijing, China

PEK

399,986

24

Boston Logan International Airport

Boston MA

BOS

399,537

25

Long Beach Airport

Long Beach CA

LGB

398,433

26

LaGuardia Airport

New York NY

LGA

389,492

27

Miami International Airport

Miami FL

MIA

386,981

28

Washington Dulles International Airport

Washington DC

IAD

382,907

29

San Francisco International Airport

San Francisco CA

SFO

379,500

30

Phoenix Deer Valley Airport

Phoenix AZ

DVT

378,349

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