America Flies into History

Every country has its own heroes who braved new frontiers. A young country we may be, but the list of our heroes is long and illustrious. The United States was built by men of dreams and aspirations and that drive lead them across the country and around the world in so many ways.  One way is by air. Who are these brave men and women who risked their lives to do something extraordinary? The Wright Brothers, Charles and Anne Lindberg, Robert Goddard, Chuck Yeager, John Glenn, and Neil Armstrong are just a few of the men and women represented at the National Air and Space Museum.
If you go to the NASM site - you can see many of these milestones and learn about the Americans who dared to explore the air and space.  The question is – did it all begin with the Wright Brothers or were there others?

picture on the wall of the Air and Space Museum

Robert Goddard - created the world's first rocket.  He had over 200 patents - two of them for a multi-stage rocket design and liquid fuel rocket design are the most important inventions of the modern age.  It's hard to imagine this man was inspired by a book he read - War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells. (do you hear that, kids? He was inspired by a book!!!!)  In 1907 he wrote a paper about balancing airplane wings for flight.  

The Lunar landing – who landed on the moon? The lunar module – two astronauts guided the module to the moon’s surface while one remained in orbit.  Who were the lucky moon walkers? Neil Armstrong and  Buzz Aldrin were the first Americans to land there in 1969. Several landings on the moon occurred before a man actually landed there.  Russia crash landed the Luna 2 on the moon’s surface, then the US  did the same with Ranger 4.  The last man to set foot on the moon was Gene Cernan in 1972. 

Neil Armstrong was a Naval officer who had a degree in aeronautical engineering from Purdue University and a Master of Science degree in the same from USC.  He served in the military from 1949 to 1960.  He was a test pilot and even flew in a rocket plan several times and traveled 140,000 ft where he bounced off the atmosphere.  He even flew with Chuck Yeager.  In 1958 he was chosen for  the US Air Force’s Man in Space Soonest program.  When he was chosen by NASA, he was to be one of the first civilian astronauts to go into space.  With Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, they made history by being the first Americans to step on the moon.  Neil stepped out first, then twenty minutes later Buzz Aldrin stepped on the moon.  Buzz Aldrin attended West Point Military Academy and became a fighter pilot in the Korean War.  He was selected as the third man by NASA in 1963.  Michael Collins served in the military for 38 years. He also became a test pilot and was soon asked to join the group of men to become astronauts.  He stayed on the spacecraft while the Aldrin and Armstrong walked on the moon. The new mineral found on the moon was called armalcolite after the three astronauts who arrived there first – Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins.

First skylab crew – Joseph Kerwin, Charles Conrad, and Paul Weitz in 1973. You can go into the skylab and see it for yourself.  You can see how the astronauts live while they are flying through space in orbit around the world.  Skylab is a space station that orbits the Earth and was launched by NASA in 1973.  It continued to orbit the Earth until 1979.  Many scientific experiments were performed in Skylab and thousands of pictures of the Earth were taken.  Unfortunately the Skylab burned up when it re-entered the atmosphere.

Willbur and Orville Wright – What possessed these men to build the first successful airplane?  Wilbur became withdrawn after losing his front teeth in a hockey incident and stayed home to help their ailing mother.  Orville started a printing business in 1889.  Soon Wilbur joined him in the printing business.  Not long after, they opened a bicycle repair and sale shop.  Inspired by Otto Lilienthal from Germany and his glides, the brothers like his plans but knew something was missing – the ability to guide the plane and glides in the right direction.  They worked on a mechanical device to fix this problem. Next, they took off the tail, but soon realized their glider needed a tail. They flew their gliders many times but still could not get the lift they wanted.  They even tried ballast but the gliders did not always work properly and they did not want to risk putting a person on it if it would crash.  They experimented with a fixed rudder, but a movable rudder worked best.  This allowed them to control the direction of their glider.  The three-axis control evolved from their experiments.

tools from their workshop

the plane they flew

By curving the top surface the wings were able to achieve lift.

The Kitty Hawke is larger than you expect.  The brothers used the same principals as many others who attempted the same thing the previous 100 years. They were successful for the following reasons – 1. They designed, built and flew a series of successful aircraft; 2. They pioneered the application of successful aeronautical engineering; and 3. They developed the tool of flight testing and data feedback.
wind tunnel
 They constructed their airplane in their bicycle shop.  They invented a wind tunnel in 1901 to help them create the aircraft that would succeed.  It helped them perform the research necessary.  When it came time to actually fly their invention, they flipped a coin.  Wilbur won the toss and he was airborne for an entire 3 ½ seconds.  But it was enough.  In 1909 they formed a manufacturing company and created the first aircraft to be sold – the Wright Model B in 1910.  In 1915 Orville sold the company.  Wilbur had died in 1912.

In 1923, the first flight across America was done by two military men – Lt. John Macready and Lt. Oakley Kelly from Long Island, NY to San Diego, CA. These two men made many trips across the country.  John Macready flew to an altitude of 40,000 feet which helped others go into space later on. For traveling across the continental US, he received a Mackay Trophy.  He served in the Air Force during WWII. 

Amelia Earhart, inspired by what the men before her had accomplished, long to do the same.  In a Lockhead 5B Vega, she flew across the Atlantic in 1932.  She then flew across the United States.  She was the first woman to do both. She was only 10 when she saw a plane at a state fair.  When she was 20 she knew she wanted to fly.  In April 1928, she received a phone call to change her life - "How would you like to be the first woman to fly the Atlantic?" She did!  And in 1935, she became the first person to fly solo from Hawaii to California.  In 1937 she wanted to fly around the world, but her plane disappeared somewhere off Howland Island, her destination.  No wreckage was ever found. 

 The first flight of the TAT airlines – Amelia Earhart, Charles and Anne Lindberg flew it together.

In 1933, the Lindbergs flew from New York to Newfoundland, then across the Atlantic Ocean to travel across Europe and then down Africa.  By the time they returned to the United States, they had been on 4 different continents.  Charles Lindberg is known as the first person to fly across the ocean alone.  His wife, Anne Morrow Lindberg flew as his copilot sometimes and wrote 2 books about their adventures. Charles Lindberg was studying at the University of Wisconsin when a barnstormer landed on the campus.  He quite college and learned to fly.  He started his career as a barnstormer and air mail pilot.  He flew the first airmail flight from Chicago to St. Louis.  In 1926, Ryan Airlines offered $25,000 to the first person who could fly from New York to Paris.  

His plane was the Spirit of St. Louis and on May 20th, 1927 he began the long journey.  He circled the Eiffel Tower before landing.  The flight took 33 hours and he had traveled 3,610 miles.  After returning to the US, he traveled to 48 states to show how transcontinental flight was safe.  #409  They also surveyed an air route to East Asia. Anne recorded all they experienced in diaries which were published later on. She became the first female to get a glider license to fly.

Joseph Montgolfier – who was he?  Flew the first balloon flight at Versailles with a rooster, a duck, and a sheep. The balloon flew several miles before crash landing.  The animals survived just fine, but soon balloons would be flying with people inside.  Benjamin Franklin was there for the flight and the first aerial balloon flight took place across the Delaware River from Philadelphia to New Jersey. Jean Pierre Blanchard first crossed the English Channel in 1785.  By 1792 he traveled the United States and met with President Washington.  He carried a small black dog and a message from Washington on the trip across the Delaware River. The trip took almost one hour and he landed in Deptford County, NJ.

The first flight attendants = once people decided traveling by airplane was safe enough, females were hired to assist people on their flights.  They were called flight attendants and needed to fulfill certain requirements – just read the signs and get a good laugh at how times have changed.  Oh, we still call them flight attendants, but no one asks the male attendants about their hair and nails, do they? 

Even now as we reach towards space, we do so in different ways - through our imaginations.  With the space program currently on hold, there will be no more space shuttle missions for quite some time.  If we want to dream of traveling through air and space, I guess we will just have to be content with flying in a plane.  Thank goodness for the people who paved the way for us.

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