A Brief History
On August 27, 1939, the first jet aircraft, the Heinkel He 178, made its first flight. Since this airplane did not make it to regular production, many people may not be familiar with it. Many pioneering events in aviation history are relatively unknown, at least to the lay public. Here 10 such machines or deeds that represent firsts in aviation history are listed (Only fixed-wing, powered flights are being considered in this list.)
10. 1st Powered Flight, 1890.
No, it was not by the Wright brothers! They did, however, make the first “controlled” powered flight in 1903 for a whopping 120 feet. It was Clement Ader who in 1890 flew the first plane using steam power plane for 160 feet, but that was not a controlled flight.
9. 1st Chief of State to Fly in an Airplane, 1910.
Did you think it might have been President of the United States? The President of France? The Prime Minister of Britain? No, it was King Ferdinand I of Bulgaria while on a visit to Belgium.
8. 1st Pilot to Have a Passenger, 1908.
This one is tricky because it is disputed. It may have been Henri Farman on March 29 with Leon Delagrange, or it may have been Wilbur Wright on May 14 with Charles Furnas. It is not known whether Delagrange or Furnas got the first bag of peanuts ever handed out to a passenger…
7. 1st to Fly 1 Kilometer Circuit and 2 Kilometer Circuit, 1907, 1908.
These are listed together because the same guy, Henri Farman, an Englishman born in France, did both. Distance flying was an extremely important in early aviation because to be useful, airplanes had to be able to fly some sort of useful distance. Farman made many early strides to lengthen the distance an airplane could fly. Later he went on to build airplanes for the French military in World War I.
6. Bleriot Trophy Winner, 1961.
A Convair B-58 Hustler supersonic bomber of the U.S. Air Force and its 3-man crew won the Bleriot Trophy, a prestigious one-time award, for flying 1,073 kilometers (666 miles) in 30 minutes and 43 seconds. Only 2 weeks later the same airplane and crew were lost in a crash in France.
5. 1st Airplane to Cross the English Channel, 1909.
Louis Bleriot, French inventor and aviation pioneer, was the first person to cross the English Channel in a powered, heavier-than-air aircraft. Considering that this feat was an international sensation, it is amazing that just a few years later in World War I, airplanes and bombers were already in use that could fly hundreds of miles. A trophy was later named for Bleriot and awarded to the first plane and crew that could fly 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) in 30 minutes (see #6). History and Headlines Note: Bleriot invented the first practical headlights for cars.
4. 1st Outside Loop, 1927.
Normal loops performed by airplanes are called inside loops, the type seen on roller coasters or with Hot Wheels toy cars. Jimmy Doolittle performed history’s first outside loop in an airplane by diving down and continuing to shove the stick forward while his canopy (top of the airplane) faced the ground and then by going back up, completing the loop. Prior to Doolittle’s feat, aviators had assumed such a maneuver would be impossible and believed anyone who attempted it would be killed.
3. 1st All-Instruments (Blind) Flight, 1929.
Jimmy Doolittle, famous American aviator, flew the first all-instrument flight in an airplane. He shrouded the canopy so that he could not see outside the cockpit. Using instruments such as an artificial horizon, an airspeed indicator, a compass, an altimeter and a gyroscope, Doolittle took off, flew and landed the plane completely blind to the outside. He was “instrumental” in developing and popularizing the use of flight instruments (pun intended).
2. 1st Flight by a Rocket-Powered Aircraft, 1928, 1939.
Three months before the historic flight by the He 178, Heinkel flew its first ever liquid-fueled, rocket-powered airplane, the He 176. With a max speed of 466 mph, it was about 100 mph faster than the piston-powered fighter planes of 1939 but apparently not fast enough to warrant further development. The He 176 did prove that rocket-powered airplanes were possible, and Germany later fielded the Me 163 Komet in combat against Allied bombers. The Japanese also used a rocket-powered airplane in combat, the Okha (Cherry Blossom) Kamikaze suicide plane. Germany had also produced the very first rocket planes in 1928 and 1929, gliders that were rigged with rockets (solid fuel, black powder) for extremely short and limited flight. These, the Lippisch Ente and the Opel RAK.1, were not exactly successful.
1. 1st Flight by a Jet Aircraft, 1939.
The Heinkel He 178 was powered by a single turbojet engine fueled by diesel fuel. Crushed by the German government’s and military’s lack of interest (Hermann Goering did not even attend a demonstration), Heinkel was unaware that the government already had other separate and secret projects involving jet aircraft technology. Although a fast airplane (380 mph) by the standards of the day, the He 178 was still almost 200 mph slower than the Messerschmitt Me 262 that became the first jet aircraft to be used in combat.
Question for students (and subscribers): Which events or equipment would you add to the list? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
For another interesting event that happened on August 27, please see the History and Headlines article: “Treaty to End War Signed (Kellogg-Briand Pact).”
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For more information, please see…
Myhra PhD, David. Heinkel He 178-Redeaux. RCW Technology S&S, Inc., 2014.