From the earliest days, man has dreamt of flying. 
From drawings on stone pyramids and Icarus' demise 
in Greek mythology to Leonardo da Vinci's prescient 
drawings of flying machines, 
we have been preoccupied by flight.

Then at the dawn of the 20th century, 
man's dream became reality. 
Brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright finally got off the 
ground in machines that were heavier than air.

Their first flight in 1903 (left) covered just a 
few feet and lasted only a few seconds. 
Little could they have known how significantly 
their invention was to change the world.

Across the sea

An indication of how the world was shrinking came 
on 25 July, 1909, when Frenchman Louis Bleriot 
landed on a golf course near Dover (top), 
having become the first man to fly across 
the English Channel in a plane.

Inspired by watching the Wright Brothers fly 
in Le Mans, he created a monoplane that 
was to become a template for future designs.

Two decades later, Charles Lindbergh took aviation 
to new heights, flying solo non-stop across 
the Atlantic, from New York to Paris. 
The Spirit of St Louis (bottom) completed the 
in less than 34 hours, braving fog and sleet.

Sex equality

Two women were at the forefront of the pioneering 
age of aviation, defying the doubters 
to achieve their places in history.

Amy Johnson (top) flew from England to Australia 
in 1930, the first woman to complete the journey solo. 
Her epic flight in her Gypsy Moth lasted 19 days.

Two years later America's Amelia Earhart, 
who had already become the first woman 
to fly across the Atlantic, 
became the first female to do the journey solo. 
Johnson died in an air crash in 1941; 
Earhart was never found after her plane disappeared in 1937.


Airships had become an established method of 
long-distance travel before a horrific accident 
brought their golden age to an abrupt end.

Their speed had made them an attractive alternative 
to liners for transatlantic crossings. 
But on 6 May, 1937, the world's largest airship, 
the 800ft German LZ129 Hindenburg, 
crashed to earth in flames in New Jersey after exploding.

The crash, as it neared the end of a 60-hour 
flight from Germany, killed 36 people. 
Regular passenger services died with them.

Battle of Britain

At the end of World War I, Orville Wright confided to a friend: 
"The aeroplane has made war so terrible that 
I do not believe any country will again care to start a war."

But just over 20 years later, Britain and Germany 
were engaged in a battle that proved a turning point 
not only in World War II but also in the use of 
planes as a killing machine.

Led by the fast and graceful Spitfire and the sturdy, 
but agile, Hurricane (left), the RAF successfully thwarted 
German attempts to invade Britain. 
More than 2,000 aircraft were lost over the summer and autumn of 1940.


His may not have been the first helicopter to leave 
the ground, but Igor Sikorsky's place in aviation history 
was ensured when his VS-300 (left) hovered for a few 
seconds above Connecticut in 1939.

The aircraft set a series of records, and helped 
his company establish its reputation 
for helicopter mass-production.

He had left his home in Kiev in 1919 for the 
"land of opportunity". Within 20 years, 
he had built and piloted the world's 
first successful single-rotor helicopter. 
He went on to set new standards 
in speed, altitude and endurance.

Passenger travel

Aviation owes a huge debt to Sir Frank Whittle's jet engine, 
which transformed air travel, bringing flying to the masses.

Fast, efficient airliners that could carry hundreds 
of paying passengers and vast cargoes created a new industry 
- and at the forefront was the Boeing 707 (left).

It first flew in 1954, and in 1957 became 
the first jet aircraft to provide a regular passenger 
service, quickly becoming a transatlantic icon.

More than 1,000 were sold, including a version that 
flew successive US Presidents until 1990.

Military innovations

Vertical take-off and landing was a significant 
breakthrough in aviation refinement.

First developed in the 1950s, the Harrier jump-jet (top) 
flew for real in 1966, entering RAF service three years later.

Its manoeuvrability and ability to take off from aircraft 
carriers made it a key weapon in the Falklands war in 1982.

A decade later, the US Air Force began using the B-2 
Stealth bomber (below), which could penetrate 
sophisticated air defences at a range of 
altitudes and over immense distances.


Man's desire to travel ever faster was met 
by Concorde - the world's first supersonic 
passenger airliner, which first flew in 1969.

With delta-shaped wings to enable it to fly at 
supersonic and subsonic speeds and an engine 
design that used afterburners to provide the 
required thrust, it was an engineering miracle.

But although it could land passengers in 
New York three-and-a-half hours after 
leaving London - less than half the subsonic 
journey time - its life was limited by the 
cold reality of economics.

The future

A century on from the first powered flight, man's 
vision of flying in the future is as vivid as ever.

Demand for air travel will continue to grow, 
but skies are becoming more crowded - 
and there is a growing realisation that the 
Earth's resources are finite. 
The double-decker Airbus A380 (top), 
due to go into service in 2006, 
can carry far more people, 
reducing the number of journeys.

In contrast, hypersonic scramjets (bottom), 
which are already being tested, 
could eventually reach Sydney from London 
in 90 minutes. But it could be well into the second 
century of flight before they become reality.

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