Last week Friday, December 17, 2021, marked another milestone in the historical exploration of global aviation, which is worth acknowledging as it marked its 117th birthday. The success of the historical evolution in the aviation industry can be attributed to the ‘daredevils’ who through incalculable risks fine-tuned experiments to make aviation what it is today.
Notable among the ‘daredevils’ whose exploration has brought the industry far today are the Wright brothers (Wilbur and Orville). Though the aviation industry can boast successes today, its evolution had had its share of insecurity – such as airline hijacking and crashes. The acts of the inventors shot the aviation industry onto the universal screen.
Era before birth of aviation
Prior to the birth of aviation on December 17, 1903, hot-air balloons and airships had begun to fly for adventure and experimental purposes. The winged-flight idea was born out of a bird’s flight.
In 1904 the Wright brothers – who were unique among aviation inventors owing to their self-motorised flight – set the pace with four rounds of experiments in flight with their device that sparked the global aviation evolution, and competition.
The Wright brothers’ exploits saw their first airlifted device crash-land -after lasting 12 seconds. However, their tenacity and resilience emboldened them to park the device in a hanger and work on it for improvement.
The Wright brothers’ second attempt with their invention saw improvement with higher altitude and speed – but it crash-landed again. That did not deter them; they went back to work on the controls. This resulted in an improvement from the first and second attempts.
The third and fourth experiment chalked up further improvements with the highest speed and longest altitude; though it crash-landed after lasting one minute. The fourth experiment translated into a competition that drew other inventors into the industry.
The Wright Brothers’ experimental feat opened the floodgates of competition in the invention. The inventors are described as ‘daredevils’ because though they had had no hindsight, foresight or insight, they adopted risky explorations without manuals.
They ventured into uncalculated risks which could have caused their death, and some of them suffered severe injuries.
The competition in experimental inventions of the airlift devices courted the military’s attention, thereby creating aircraft for fighting wars. It is worth acknowledging some works of the ‘daredevils’: such as Glenn Curtiss – 1878 to 1930 – who invented the first American public air-displays during Independence Day in 1908. Later, in 1914, he became a leading aircraft manufacturer.
The son of a British journalist brought up in France, Henry Farman – 1874 to 1958 – whose first occupation was a bicycle racer, performed a cross-country flight between Bouys and Reins over a distance of 17 miles without charts or maps for direction.
Aviation exploration had others such as an engineer and businessman Louis Bleirot – 1872 to 1936 – who was the first person to cross the English Channel (the sea dividing England and the rest of Europe) on July 25, 1909 despite bad weather and odds.
It is worth acknowledging Lieutenant Thomas Rich, who was the first aviation casualty ever recorded in September 1908. He was a military officer appointed to sit in one of the aircraft to assess the performance of the aircraft’s spin for approval of its efficacy before contracting the Wright brothers to manufacture planes for military missions.
Unfortunately, the lieutenant did not survive because something went wrong with the propeller – which led to the aircraft crashing. He had a broken skull and died shortly after the incident. He is described as ‘daredevil’ because that era never had suits, manuals and related preventives of danger compared to today’s aviation.
The history of aviation is not worth commending without mentioning the British Daily Mail, which was a business that supported people for competitions and paid so much money to contestants. For example, Louis Bleirot was a contestant who earned £1,000 for crossing the English Channel.
More so, Capt. Albert Berry cannot be skipped in the ‘daredevils’ who flew the aviation industry to today’s height. Born March 1, 1912, he was the first to come out with a parachute to the view of 100 military spectators. Though weather conditions delayed his experiment, it was later successful.
An Italian who was born on October 17, 1882 and died in October 1939, Capt. Bullio Gadochi, was the first to try the experiment of flying and dropping a bomb into a designated area.
Subsequently, the idea of aerially dropping bombs into an area was born out of Capt. Gadochi’s experiment. The history of aviation cannot be recounted without taking cognisance of aviation regulatory mechanisms. At the end of the First World War in 1919, air traffic regulations set in.
The aircraft used in fighting the war became idle. This gave the opportunity for idle aircraft to be used for courier services (airmail and cargo purposes). That metamorphosed into passenger services – counting KLM in 1919 and Imperial Airways, now called British Airways, in 1924. The two airlines were the first prominent ones and triggered the passenger-service industry.
The aviation evolution saw strong setbacks for the ‘daredevils’, owing to crashes that led to deaths and injuries. Subsequently, the setbacks gave birth to airline regulatory bodies. The first ever was the Paris Convention in 1919, which saw the foundation of regulations for the international airline industry.
International airline laws were enacted to ensure sanity and safety in the aviation industry.
This all started in 1919 at the Paris Peace Conference geared toward air sovereignty – which meant a country owned the airspace above its territory. The Paris Convention was set after the First World War, and saw an improvement when the Havana Convention came into being in 1928.
That convention reaffirmed the principle of air sovereignty from the Paris Convention. The convention was to deliberate on how to treat national and foreign aircraft territory, which granted the right for 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 providing arbitration in cases of disagreement. The Chicago Convention came into form in December 1944, giving birth to uniformity in airline operations (standards and recommended practices).
The move sought to find means of issuing licences to aviation-related professionals: such as pilots, flight attendants, engineers and others. Rules of the air also came into the picture to regulate air traffic services, aerodromes, standards of safe airports and operation of aircraft, which were all deliberated upon at the Chicago Convention.
The Warsaw Convention talked about international liability – such as compensating passengers in case of injury owing to negligence of an airline. All the regulations were set during after World War 1. Post World War 1 saw invention of the jet engine, which allowed flights to be very smooth and less fuel-consuming.
Moreover, the radar system that was an advanced technology replaced a crude system called ‘procedural’. The radar afforded air traffic controllers the ability to separate aircraft efficiently, which came as a relief from the old system.
Post-World War II
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 300 passengers in its double cabin.
The Concorde and airbuses are not left out. Aircraft manufacturers such as Douglas, Boeing and McDonnell surfaced in the post-World War II era.
Ghana joined the aviation industry bandwagon in the 1950s, with the West African Airways Corporation morphing into Ghana Airways – which started operation in 1958 (the era of Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah).
As aviation exploration is an attribution of its birth on December 17, 1903, it is worth marking historical exploits of the industry by bringing stakeholders onboard to appreciate the efforts of global aviation, its pioneers, veterans and innovators to celebrate them in climaxing the birthday.
Exploration is worth celebrating to appreciate the aviation industry’s historical evolution with events slated in July and December 2021. The July 2021 event was be dedicated to Ghana aviation pioneers, veterans and innovators. In December 2021, the event will be dedicated to the ‘daredevils’ who risked their lives in the quest to bring the industry this far. There will be salient activities to mark both events.
>>>The Writer is an Airline Enthusiast and Aviation Mentor for the Youth