Aviation: From Kitty Hawk to Today


Join Active Minds for a review of aviation in the United States. We will begin the story with the Wright Brothers and end with a look at the airline industry today, including the possibility of commercial supersonic flights again in the not too distant future. In between, we’ll visit Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart, aviation in the military, and the increased use of drone aircraft.

Key Lecture Points

  • In 1903, the Wright brothers achieved the first powered and controlled flight of an aircraft. This achievement initiated a century of rapid progress in the new frontier of the skies.  World War I played a major role in the development of the aviation industry. Since that time, the dual aspects of aviation—its military and its commercial applications—and the interplay between civilian and military research and development has been a recurring themeFrom its earliest stage to the present, military advances have fed civilian ones and vice versa, propelling aviation technologies into the 21st century.
  • Charles Lindbergh made his historic solo flight across the Atlantic from New York to France in 1927.  A frenzied crowd of more than 100,000 people gathered at Le Bourget Field to greet him when he landed, less than 34 hours after his departure from New York.  More than eighty years after this historic flight, aviation still captures the popular imagination.
  • Like Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart continues to fascinate us.  Amelia Earhart used aviation to show the equality of men and women.  She was the first person to fly solo across the Pacific from Oakland to Honolulu.  However, she is most remembered for her ill-fated 1937 attempt to be the first woman to fly around the world.
  • Aerial bombardment played a key role in Allied victories during WWII and in every war since, not to mention the role of planes in intelligence gathering and in the Cold War arms race.  Commercial jet flights, beginning in the 1950s, enabled American-made goods and Americans themselves to travel the world over.  Advances in aviation have been noted as one of the key technological developments that has spurred the process of globalization.
  • The advent of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), popularly called “drones” is the major aviation technology innovation of the 21st century.  The proliferation of drones presents new challenges in military and commercial aviation.  The merits and uses of drones are debated, but the technology may signal the end of the need for professional aviators.
  • Flying can be a big part of our carbon footprint, even though aviation produces a rather small share of total greenhouse gas emissions. Innovative efforts to de-carbonize air travel include electric aircraft, hydrogen propulsion, and even blimps.

Discussion Questions

  • Describe how military aviation influenced the development of civilian aviation.
  • Describe the pros and cons of using drones in warfare.
  • How old were you when you took your first plane trip?  Describe how air travel has changed since your first plane trip.
  • How do you envision aviation changing in the future? Would you enjoy a slower yet more climate-friendly flight on a blimp?

More to Explore

Books For Further Reading

  • Fleming, Candace. Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart. Schwartz & Wade, 2011. 128 pages. Biography of Amelia Earhart.
    Click here to order
  • Davies, Barry.  Build A Drone: A Step-by-Step Guide to Designing, Constructing, and Flying Your Very Own Drone.  Skyhorse Publishing, 2016.  216 pages.  This book gives the history of the military use of drones, provides instructions on how to build a drone and discusses the safe and proper use of drones.
    Click here to order
  • McCullough, David. The Wright Brothers.  Simon & Schuster, 2016. 336 pages.  This book tells the story of how two Ohio brothers, with only a high school education, taught the world how to fly.
    Click here to order