History of aviation : The Early Years 1903-1939

Welcome to a 4 week mini series on the history of aviation. Each week will feature a different significant period in aviation. The topics are listed below.
Week 1: The Early Years 1903-1939
Week 2: The Jet Age 1939-1968
Week 3: Modern Aviation 1968-present
Week 4: The Space Race
I apologize for not posting any content in the past couple of weeks. I am currently on an unexpected business trip but will get home soon. For those of you that don’t know me, I currently work at a major aero firm but hope to become a pilot someday. I typically post educational content once a week. Feel free to reach out and chat with me anytime. Discussion is encouraged and likes are appreciated. :)


Some dates may be inaccurate as some are in contention.


Image credit wiki
The history of powered aviation begins with the first famous flight of he wright brothers at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina on December 17th ,1903. Traveling a total distance of 120 feet it lead to a second design called the wright flyer 2 after the first one crashed. The wright flyer 2 was constructed out of pine instead of spruce and used a more powerful engine and was flown in Dayton ohio. This second aircraft had a longer endurance and a better launch system. During the winter of 1904, he brothers built the third aircraft in an attempt to sell them but the military was not interested so they went to Europe where they had better luck with sales. At this time stability was still a major issue with frequent crashes. Santos-Dumont added ailerons to the wings which corrected the issue on his Demoiselle aircraft. The Demoiselle was the first serial production aircraft.


Image credit: wiki
Early aircraft were primarily used in the military for recon , bombing ,and fires correction. Several European countries employed them before World War One. At this point, airplanes were considered a special assist and not as an offensive weapon. During World War One the first guns were attached to aircraft and aerial warfare was formed. Both the axis and allies used aircraft with many being shot down by famous aces like the red barron. In 1915 a revolutionary new design was created consisting of an all metal frame by Hugo Junkers. After World War One the pilots continued flying as air races became popular as a family outing. Aircraft now began having the range to compete in distance trials which led to longer endurance, higher flying, and faster aircraft. Airlines also began to appear, at first as a sightseeing and mail delivery service and then as longer distance passenger transport companies. In 1929 Jimmy Doolittle developed instrumental flight which is now incorporated into almost all aircraft. And let’s not forget famous female aviators of the day such as Bessie Coleman and Amelia Earhart who over came countless obstacles standing pin their paths.

This brings us to the end of end of installment number one in the history of aviations series. Once again please like, comment and discuss below.


you should talk about the many interwar aircraft, the the experiments, like the beardmore and the xnb-1

Thanks for posting this interesting topic!

I was trying to sort out who actually invented the aileron: Matthew Piers Watt Boulton - Wikipedia,
Glenn Curtiss - Wikipedia, or the Wright Brothers ( Aileron - Wikipedia), Santos-Durmont?

Glen Curtiss and the Wright Brothers fought legal battles over who invented it, Boulton had an early patent on such a device the sources say.

Is it also claimed Santos-Dumont invented the aileron or just used the previously developed concept?

Or maybe some of them refer to different refinements when they talk of “aileron”?

It is complicated to figure it out as people have different opinions and not everything was always documented properly. For example some people say the wright brothers invented the airplane as they had the first powered flight but other people claim that someone else did because they never serial produced their invention. Add on to that regions that claim that they did it like. I prefer to look away from all of that and recognize each person for the contributions to the world of aviation. Each of them overcame countless obstacles and without each one the airplane could have become a flop.

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I agree it’s best to keep a positive perspective, and also recognize the history of technology is complicated and “fuzzy,” as far as figuring out the exact source of contributions.

I have a personal interest in this though because there are copies of letters from way back of a relative of mine (who was kind of connected in the science world back then) corresponding with Alexander Graham Bell about Bell’s work with aviation.

Some sources claim Bell invented the aileron ( 7 Epic Alexander Graham Bell Inventions (belllegacy.org), or that Glenn Curtis who was associated with Bell’s group (if I understood correctly) invented it.

That’s why I was splitting hairs, pure curiosity in trying to make sense of what was going on with these dialogs. Bell was working on tetrahedral kites among other things Alexander Graham Bell’s Tetrahedral Kites (1903–9) — The Public Domain Review

edit: Glen Curtis was in Alexander Graham Bell’s Aerial Experiment Association - Wikipedia
The Wright/Smithsonian Controvery Part 6 (wright-brothers.org)