Today marks another milestone in the historical exploration of global aviation, which is worth acknowledging as it marks its 118th birthday.
The success of the historical evolution in the aviation industry could be attributed to the “Aero Dare devils” who through uncalculated risks, fine-tuned experiments to make aviation what it is today.
Notable among the “Aero Dare devils” whose exploration has brought the industry this far are the Wright Brothers (Wilbur and Orville) and others who will be mentioned shortly.
The acts of the inventors shot the aviation industry unto the universal screen.
The whole aviation evolution was premised on Man’s desire to fly after observing bird activities over a period of time.
Era before Birth of Aviation:
Prior to the birth of invention on the 17th December 1903 air balloon, gliders and airships were being flown for adventure and experiment purposes.
Albert Santos Dumont, born on 20th July 1873, comfortably registered his exploration in the hallmark of Aero daredevils, when in 1898 he designed an Air balloon that had an internal combustion engine attached.
In 1901, he competed for the “Deutsch De La Meur” the price of 100,00 Francs to fly a circuit around the Eiffel tower within an Hour.
17th December, 1903, The Birth of the aviation industry:
On this day, the Wright Brothers, who were unique among the aviation inventors owing to their self-motorised flight (flights getting airborne and landing under its own power due to the design of its wing and engines), set the pace with four rounds of experiments in their FLYER 1 AIRCRAFT device, that sparked global aviation evolution, and competition.
The Wright Brothers’ exploration saw their first airlifted FLYER 1 device crash land 12 seconds and 120 feet of travel, after becoming Airborne. However, their tenacity and resilience emboldened them to pull the device into their hangar for repairs and improve the design and build of the flight controls.
The Wright Brothers’ second attempt at their invention saw improvement with a flying distance and time, better than the first but crash landed again.
That did not deter them but went back to work on the controls, resulting in an improvement on their third attempt which in terms of flight time and distance covered, was better than the first two.
It was the fourth and last flight tests for that day, with a flight time of 59 Seconds that translated into a competition that ushered other inventors into the industry, opening the floodgate of fierce competition on invention.
All the flight tests by the FLYER ONE, attracted a large number of enthusiastic crowd and no sooner had they parked their device in the hangar and headed home for Christmas, than news began to go viral.
What was to happen from January 1904, that turned the face of aviation, is the reason many aviation analysts officially saw 17th December, 1903 as the Birthdate of aviation.
Many aviation enthusiasts, began to compete with the Wright Brothers, by designing and building Aircraft that could outperform the FLYER 1 in-terms of speed, altitude, and time.
1904 to 1914: Pre–World war 1 Era and the Decade of more Aero dare Devils:
The inventors are described as “Aero Dare devils” because, though they had had no hindsight, foresight, and insight, yet, adopted risky explorations. As hinted earlier, the aero dare devils, had the burning desire to catapult themselves into the industrial prominence, by out-doing the FLYER 1 Aircraft.
They ventured uncalculated risk which could have courted their death, though some of them suffered severe injuries.
Towards the World War 1, their competition in experimental invention of the airlift devices, courted the attention of the military, hatching the idea to invent aircraft for military reconnaissance missions.
The era of the World War I, (1914 to 1919), Only 11 years after the Self-motorised feat of the wright Brothers, saw the design and building of many Aircraft for waging war.
In this Pre-world war 1 Era, It is worth acknowledging some of the works of the “Aero Dare devils” such as Glenn Curtiss born in 1878 to 1930 who out-doored the first American air public display during independence in 1908. He later in 1914 became a leading aircraft manufacturer.
A son of a British journalist brought up in France, Henry Farman born in 1874 to 1958, whose first occupation was a Bicycle racer, on 30th October, 1908 performed a cross country flight between Bouys and Reins with a distance of 17 miles (27 kilometers) in 20 minutes without an established, regulatory, operational, and other Air navigation infrastructure and policy guidance like what the industry has as of now. He later manufactured twelve thousand (12,000) Aircraft for World War 1
The aviation exploration had others such as an engineer and business man Louis Bleirot born in 1872 to 1936, who became the first person to cross the English Tunnel (a sea dividing London and the rest of Europe) on 25th July, 1909 in spite of bad weather and countless operational and Aircraft technical odds.
It is worth acknowledging Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge, who was the first aviation casualty ever recorded in September 1908.
He was a military officer appointed to sit in one of the Wright brothers’ aircraft to assess the performance of the Maneuvers (mostly aerobatic in nature) for approval of its efficacy to contract their company to manufacture planes for military missions.
Unfortunately, the lieutenant did not survive because of a technical glitch on the propellers, making it difficult to control the aircraft. It Crashed moments later. Orville wright, the pilot of the Aircraft survived, but with serious injuries.
Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge suffered a fractured skull and died shortly after the accident, sadly making him the first aviation statistic!
He is described as an Aero Dare Devil, because, that era never had the requisite pilot dress logistics such as parachutes and G-Suites and other state of the art technical instruments and procedures to deal with Aircraft emergencies as compared to today’s aviation.
The history of aviation is not worth commending without the acts of the British Daily Mail that was a newspaper house but also into the business of sponsoring many dare devilling aero competitions and paying so much money to contestants. The daily mail was just one of the many businesses that sponsored aviation related competitions worldwide.
For instance, Louis Bleirot was a contestant who earned £1000 for crossing the English Tunnel.
More so, Capt. Albert Berry cannot be skipped of the “Dare devils” who soared the aviation industry to today’s height.
Born 1st March 1912, he was the first to jump out of an Aircraft with a parachute to the view of 100 military spectators.
Though weather condition averted his experiment, yet, was successful.
An Italian born on 17th October, 1882, and died in October, 1939, Giulio Gavotti was the first to try the most unthinkable risky and highly coordinated experiment of Air bombing during flight.
Subsequently, the idea of aerial bombing, was borne out of Guillio Gavotti”s experiment.
Post World War 1 Era: (Breakthroughs and the coming of the Inventors and Innovators)
The history of aviation cannot be recounted without taking cognisance of aviation regulatory mechanisms.
At the end of the First World War in 1919, saw the Birth of Inventions, Legal conventions and innovations after having learned so much lessons from the setbacks of the Aero dare devils and also the expansion of the whole industry which included passenger travels.
The desire to make flying Safe, comfortable and affordable, began to take the aviation center stage.
The aircraft that survived World War 1, became idle. That saw the need to convert them to be used for courier services (airmails, and cargo purposes).
That metamorphosed into passenger services courting the KLM in 1919, and Imperial Airways now called British Airways in 1924.
The two airlines were the first prominent ones that triggered the passenger services.
The aviation evolution saw a strong setback with the “Aero Dare devils” owing to crashes leading to deaths and injuries.
Subsequently, the setbacks gave birth to airline regulatory bodies.
The first ever was the Paris Convention in 1919 that saw the foundation of the regulation of international airline industry.
International airline laws were enacted to ensure sanity in the aviation industry.
That started in 1919 called the Paris Peace Conference geared towards air sovereignty inter alia. That meant a country owned her airspace above her territory.
The Paris Convention was set after the First World War. It saw an improvement when the Havana Convention came into light in 1928.
That convention reaffirmed the principle of air sovereignty in the Paris Convention.
The convention was to deliberate on how to treat national and foreign aircraft which granted the right to any nation to question any aircraft flying over prohibited zones.
The regulations also deliberated on the rights and duties of captains of aircraft in terms of provision of arbitration in cases of disagreement.
The Chicago Convention came into form in December, 1944 giving birth to uniformity in airline operations worldwide (standards and recommended practices). Fifty two (52) nations signed the convention as of then but today, one hundred and eighty eight (188) nations have ratified to the conventions.
The move through the creation of 17 Annexes, sought to find means of dealing with many salient issues regarding aviation safety and uniformity.
The annexes dealt with issues such as Personnel licensing of pilots, engineers, how to measure the safety and standardization of airports, aircraft search and rescue operations, Aircraft maintenance, to mention just a few.
Freedoms of the Air, another facet of the Chicago convention, also dealt with the aero political and economic regulation of Airlines through Bilateral agreements between Airlines as to how to operate into each other’s state.
With all the regulations and conventions, aviation was steadily coming closer to safety and later to be one of the safest means of transport, if not the safest!
The Warsaw Convention talked about international liability such as compensating passengers in case of injury or any damage caused to passengers, owing to negligence of an airline.
The post World War I saw the invention of the jet engine that afforded flights to be very smooth, less noisy than their propeller engine “predecessors “and less fuel consuming.
Passenger travel slowly began to replace Ocean Liners by the late 1950s.
More so, the radar system that was an advanced technology used by air traffic controllers to safely separate aircraft according to the Chicago convention Annex 2, replaced a crude system called procedural control. The latter was very stressful to Air traffic controllers back in the day!
Beyond World War II, the fine tuning of aviation exploration metamorphosed into the birth of a jumbo jet that had the capacity to carry about 400 passengers in its double cabin.
The Concord that travelled twice the speed of sound, afforded Business tycoons, cris crossing the Atlantic ocean for business meetings and return to their origins in good time.
The Concorde could fly from Paris to New York for instance in under 4 hours as compared to the modern jetliners which did a minimum of 8 hours depending on winds.
Aircraft manufacturers such as Douglas and Boeing, surfaced in the post-World War 1 era and improved on manufacturing safer, fast and comfortable aircraft of which many are in use today. For example, BOEING 777, 787, MC DONNEL DOULAS MD-11 and others.
Where was Ghana and Africa during the Aviation evolution?
Ghana joined the wagon of the aviation industry in the 1950s with the West African Airways Corporation leading to the Birth of Ghana Airways in 1958 (the era of Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah).
I am thankful to God for having the privilege of celebrating Ghana’s aviation pioneers during aviation 111th anniversary on 17th December 2014 and will again collaborate with the relevant aviation stakeholders to re-celebrate all Ghanaian and African aviation pioneers, veterans, and innovators in year 2021.
As the aviation exploration is an attribution to its birth on 17th December 1903, it is worth marking the historical exploration of the industry by bringing stakeholders onboard to appreciate the efforts of global aviation, its pioneers, Aero dare devils, veterans, and innovators to celebrate them in climaxing the 118th birthday on 17th December 2021.
In conclusion, I must say that though the industry has had its fair share of Setbacks (Hi jacking, Pandemics, Fatal crashes, bankruptcies of some Aviation business, political instabilities and a host of others) towards the end of the twentieth century till date, it has continued to improve in safety and quality control systems to make it a more safe and economic venture through training, upgraded aircraft maintenance, investment in modern infrastructure and to mention just a few.
Long live global aviation…!
(The Writer is an Airline Captain, Aviation Enthusiast and Aviation Mentor for Teens and Youth)