A century ago, aviation became an industry
By Kevin Burns|December 2016
The History Technical Committee works to preserve the record of aerospace advances and recognize their impacts on modern society.
One hundred years ago, aviation was just coming of age as the Great War had spread across Europe over the previous two years, and the integration of aviation into combat for the first time was seen as a way to break the stalemate of trench warfare.
In 1916 under the guidance of William “Bill” Boeing, a tiny airplane manufacturing company was started and grew into a huge corporation of related industries. Clyde Cessna also started building airplanes in Wichita, Kansas, during the winter of 1916-17. Today, more than one-fifth of America’s civilian aircraft are built in Wichita or by companies from there.
Also in 1916, U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Norman B. Hall borrowed a Curtiss flying boat from the Curtiss Flying School in Newport News, Virginia, for patrol, search and rescue experiments, thus marking the dawn of Coast Guard aviation.
In France, the Dassault company celebrated its 100th anniversary this year. Company founder Marcel Dassault designed the Éclair propeller used on aircraft that were flown in the first “air battle” over Verdun in World War I.
In August 1916, Lester D. Gardner, who in 1928 would go on to found the Institute of the Aeronautical Sciences, one of AIAA’s predecessor organizations, published his first issue of the magazine titled Aviation and Aeronautical Engineering. The magazine cost 5 cents and some of the special features included a course in aerodynamics and aeroplane design, as well as the latest types of German aeroplanes. For a while it served as the journal of the aviation community and then became what is now Aviation Week and Space Technology.
Communities across America celebrated aviation centennial events in 2016. The Nebraska National Guard Museum in Seward installed a new exhibit to commemorate Ralph McMillen of the Nebraska National Guard, who died at age 27 in September 1916 while barnstorming in a 1913 Curtiss Model D “Pusher.”
Hagerstown, Maryland, celebrated its first manufactured aircraft. In 1916, Giuseppi Bellanca designed, built and tested the Bellanca CD. Fifteen years later, Hagerstown would become the home of Fairchild Aircraft when it moved from New York.
In 1916 the Austin Company in Cleveland received a contract to build the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company plant in Buffalo, New York. Over the next century the Austin Company would build other aircraft manufacturing facilities, as well as design and construct hangars, maintenance facilities, and administration and terminal buildings across America.
The National Park Service celebrated its centennial as it preserves aviation history at the Wright Brothers National Memorial in the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park in Ohio and the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site in Alabama.
The space community also celebrated milestones this year with the 40th anniversary of the opening of the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., and the commemoration of the July 1976 touchdown of the Viking 1 planetary lander on the Chryse Planitia, or Golden Plains, of Mars after a voyage of nearly one year. The primary mission of the Viking project ended in November 1976, although the Viking spacecraft continued to transmit to Earth for six years after first reaching Mars.
2016 was also the 50th anniversary of the first orbital docking and of the Surveyor 1 landing on the moon. Surveyor 1 transmitted more than 10,000 high-quality photographs of the lunar surface and was the first American spacecraft to soft-land on the moon. ★