The Origins of Aviation & Airlines

For anything in this life, there is a beginning. For aviation the beginning is considered to be a little different and unique, simply because, who in the ancient times ever thought that humans can fly?! Since humans first observed the flight of birds, birds became the idol of those humans who have been dreaming to join them in flying. In fact, the term “aviation” which refers to the operational of aircraft, is derived from the Latin avis, meaning “bird”.

Early recorded history is full of flight experiments and pioneers that had a big role in making it possible for humans to fly. Starting with the Greek mythology, Icarus flew too close to the sun, which melted the wax that holds his wings together, causing him to fall to the ground (30BCE). Then came Leonardo da Vinci, who was the first to apply scientific principles to aviation in his sketches of flying machines (1503). Proceeding, the Wright brothers, Wilbur and Orville who made history when Orville had successfully flew their aircraft about 37 metres (120 feet), being the first ever to fly a controlled, powered, and heavier-than-air flight (1903). Following Wright’s success, other different functional aircraft were developed.

Photo by: Charles Wiggin

In 1903? Oh that’s before World War I (WWI)! You might now think that WW1 has delayed the development of aviation. Well, surprisingly, WWI was the booster that incredibly raised the use of aircraft. WWI that begun in 1914, aircraft were at first used in reconnaissance-missions, and then eventually in
bombing and air-to-air combat. And when the war was over in 1918 and for the first time ever, an overflowing of trained pilots and aircraft were available. From here, the market of civil aviation started to develop. Flight training businesses, aerial surveying, air shows, charted passenger services, and more civil aviation activities grew in availability at that time.

From the end of WWI through the 1930s, airlines began to appear and here are 7 of the very first airlines:

  • KLM (Netherlands) – 1919
  • Avianca (Colombia) – 1919
  • Qantas (Australia) – 1920
  • Czech Airlines (Czechoslovakia) – 1923
  • Lufthansa (Germany) – 1926
  • Iberia (Spain) – 1927
  • Pan American World Airways (Unites States) – 1927

In World War II (WW II) that began in 1939, aviation wasn’t only a supporting part in the war; air power was crucial! Luftwaffe, the German air force and the Imperial Japanese Army Air Service battled the Allies’
British air force (that included the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Australian Air Force). The United States Army Air Force, and the Soviet Air Force in aggressive bombing and fighter missions throughout the war.
Incredible technical and operational aviation advancements occurred during that time. By the time the Allies won the war 1945, both civil and military aviation had incredibly grown. Aviation was no longer seen as
something mythical, but rather as a part of everyday life.

Source: Fundamentals of International Aviation book by Suzanne K. Kearns
Cover photo: KLM Dutch Caribbean

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