Aviation Timeline

1783: First lighter-than-air vehicle. Montgolfier Brothers construct a hot-air balloon.

1883: First glider flight. John J Montgomery began the first of a series of glider flights at Otay Mesa (near El Cajon) CA.

1903: First successful powered airplane. (Orville and Wilbur Wright).

1909: First rotary-wing aircraft patent (US). William Purvis and Charles Wilson, railroad mechanics in Goodland KS, quit their jobs to work on a rotary-winged aircraft. The venture failed, but their design is believed to be the first rotary-winged aircraft ever patented, a predecessor to the helicopter..

1913: First skywriting. Milton J Bryant over Seattle, WA, formed a business of aerial advertising.

1914: First gyroscopic stabilizer. Lawrence Sperry, son of inventor Elmer A Sperry, flew a Curtiss flying boat fitted with four gyroscopes over the Seine River in France while standing in the cockpit with his hands clearly off the controls, and his mechanic standing on the lower wing. Despite gusty winds, the ship maintained longitudinal stability and won a 50,000-franc first prize.
1915: First catapult launch from a moving ship. Made from USS North Carolina, underway on Pensacola Bay ( LtCdr Henry C Mustin).

1915: NACA formed. The Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (later the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics) was established by a rider to the Naval Appropriations Act "...to supervise and direct the scientific study of the problems of flight, with a view of their practical solution." $5,000 a year was appropriated for 5 years — total appropriation for USN aeronautics was $1 million.

1921: First aerial "refueling" (US). First air-to-air refueling, as such, made when Wesley May stepped from the wing of one biplane to that of another with a five-gallon can of gasoline strapped to his back.

1922: First helicopter in controlled horizontal flight (US). Henry Berliner in a war surplus Nieuport biplane fighter modified with tilting tail rotor, and a short-span upper wing with 14'0" helicopter blades at the tips, in a demonstration for the military at College Park MD.
1923: First in-flight plane-to-plane refueling. US Army de Havilland DH-4B over Rockwell Field, San Diego. (Pilots also set a distance record of 3,293 miles covered in the flight.)

1931: Unrefuelled endurance record. Bellanca with Packard DR-980 diesel engine flew for 84 hours, 32 minutes without refueling, a record that has never been broken.

1935: First in-flight sound motion picture. Central Airlines, on a flight from Washington DC to Pittsburgh.

1939: Successful single main rotor helicopter. Sikorsky VS-300

1939: Jet airplane. Germany's Heinkel He.178

1947: Sound barrier broken. (Chuck Yeager)

1952: First commercial jet service. British Overseas Aircraft Corporation, flying DeHaviland Comet 1 (first flown in 1949)

1954: First American jet transport. Boeing 707 prototype (model 367-80 a.k.a. "Dash 80") makes its maiden flight from Renton Field, south of Seattle.

1958: First American commercial jet service. (PanAm 707)

1958: NASA formed. National Aeronautics and Space Administration replaces NACA.

1958: First American satellite. Explorer 1 launched atop Jupiter-C rocket.

1959: Flight endurance record. John Cook and Robert Timm took off from McCarran Airfield in Las Vegas NV in a Cessna 172 and, with in-flight refueling, remained aloft for 64 days, 22 hours, more than two months in continual flight. They finally landed at McCarren on 2/7/59.

1960: Highest parachute jump. USAF Capt Joseph W. Kittinger jumps from a balloon gondola at 102,800' in a parachute test over New Mexico, clad in a pressure suit. It took 1 hour, 43 minutes to reach altitude, and less than 14 minutes to make the return trip. He also set three other records at the same time: (1) the highest man had ever gone in unpowered flight, (2) the longest free-fall in history (16 miles), (3) the first man to exceed the speed of sound without a vehicle (614mph at that altitude).

1969: First steps on moon. (Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin)

1971: First Boeing 747 commercial flight. (New York to London)

1981: First space shuttle flight. (Challenger)