10 Milestones in the History of Manned Flight


Next year will mark 120 years since the very first flight. Since then, there have been myriad milestones, but here are ten of the most important (including several bows to Spain and one to ourselves)

17 December 1903: The First Manned, Artificially Powered Flight

Although there were pioneers of the air before then (such as a hot air ballooning as far back as 1783), the first flight of a powered heavier-than-air aircraft was famously carried out by brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright. It was this feat in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina that set in motion the true history of aviation. The four short flights aboard the Flyer that day barely added up to two minutes, but aeronautical technology has developed at breakneck speed since then. 

25 July 1909: The First Flight Across the English Channel

Louis Blériot was the brave pilot who dared to cross the Channel and did so to win the £1,000 prize advertised in the Daily Mail. He was the only one of his rivals to do so, despite numerous obstacles. He flew the Blériot XI, a monoplane he had built, limping and on crutches, with the wind (and his wife) against him. Blériot’s 37-minute flight across 33 kilometres (21 miles) may not seem like much now, but that heroic feat at 64 km/hour (40 mph)  at an altitude of 76 metres (249 feet) is a milestone which paved the way for greater achievements ahead. 

1 January 1914: The First Commercial Flight

The first airline ticket sold to a passenger ended up in the hands of Abraham C. Pheil, the former mayor of St. Petersburg, Florida. The Benoist-14 flew at just 1.5m (five feet) above the waves from Tampa to next door, and rich moguls of the period had bid for the experience. Pheil bought the precious ticket, which cost him 400 dollars, which would be a fortune today, and with it the honour of being entering aviation history for a journey of 23 minutes and 30km (19 mi.).

10 February 1926: The First Spanish Transatlantic Flight

The seaplane Plus Ultra took off from Palos de la Frontera in the Andalusian province of Huelva on 22 January and landed 19 days later, having travelled more than 10,000km (6,214 mi.), in Buenos Aires. However, this epic flight was made in six stages and the plane was in the air for almost 60 hours. The first non-stop flight was soon to come, at the hands of one of the great heroes of the history of air navigation. (To read more about the great Spanish air expeditions of the ’20s, click here.)

21 May 1927: Charles Lindbergh Crosses the Atlantic Without a Stopover

This U.S. engineer and celebrity aviator not only won the $25,000 prize offered by a businessman for achieving the feat (flying from New York City to Paris), but in the process he also became a national hero. He covered the more than 5,800km (3,604 mi.) in 33 hours and 30 minutes aboard the monoplane Spirit of St. Louis. 

14 December 1927: Iberia Airlines’ Inaugural Flight

Having been founded the previous 28 of June, Spain’s first airline launched its inaugural flight was from Barcelona to Madrid to great hoopla.

22 September 1946: The First Post-World-War-II Commercial flight between Europe and the Americas

An Iberia DC-4 travelled between Madrid and Buenos Aires, establishing an aviation milestone. The first flight attendants, dressed in military-inspired uniforms, travelled on that flight. The name to designate them was the subject of debate; air hostesses, stewardesses or cabin boys were some of the possible options. 

14 October 1947: The Sound Barrier Is Broken

Chuck Yeager, a captain in the US Air Force, broke the sound barrier – which stands at 1,234km/h (767 mph) – by reaching  1,299km/h (807 mph) over a Southern California dry lake in a rocket plane called Glamorous Glennis, named in honour of his wife. The first supersonic civilian flight took almost 30 more years to arrive, in 1976 aboard the Franco-British Concorde SST. 

23 July 1959: History’s First Jetway

The first was installed at San Francisco International Airport and proved to be effective for passenger boarding. Today they are widely used all over the world. 

10 September 1981: Pablo Picasso’s Guernica Arrives in Spain

Also one of the most moving moments in Spain’s recent history, an Iberia’s Boeing 747 Lope de Vega took off from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Aairport to bring home the most famous work of one of the 20th century’s most famous painters. The fact that such an important and fragile work of art was flown on board a commercial aircraft speaks volumes about the safety and trust placed in air travel.  (Read more about this here.)