Monday, December 1, 2003

The age of romance


By Mardell Haskins

After the Wright Brothers historic flight in 1903, they spent the next few years patenting, testing, improving, and refining their airplane, which was now the Wright Flyer III.

In the beginning, the world was slow to accept the airplane -- not just the Wright's airplane, but the basic concept of any airplane. Most people had never heard of the airplane, let alone that one had actually flown and most people probably wouldn't have believed it anyway.

Europeans accepted the airplane much earlier than American did. By 1909, airplanes and flyers were popping up everywhere in Europe, setting all kinds of records. This was really the year that aviation truly began.

The age of romance

As pilots began doing rolls, loops, and other maneuvers with their airplanes, the public begin to realize that airplanes could be entertaining and exciting. Flying exhibits soon appeared around the country. This, then, was the beginning of the Romantic Barnstorming Era, as pilots tried to make a living by taking their airplanes to farm fields and cow pastures in just about every corner of the U.S.

Numerous crashes of the frail, unstable airplanes were commonplace, frequently resulting in death. This started to have a dampening effect on the public enthusiasm for airplanes. Flying exhibits peaked around 1911, and by 1915 the Barnstorming Era was pretty much over.

In 1911, Harriet Quimby, a progressive and romantic reporter for the New York publication Leslie's Illustrated Weekly, became the first American woman to reluctantly be issued a pilot's license. On April 16, 1912, Quimby set another first, when she became the first woman to fly across the English Channel. However, three months later on July 1, 1912, Harriet and her passenger William Willard fell to their death when her airplane flipped upside down.

As the airplane gained popularity, "firsts" were commonplace. In 1912, first trans-continental flight was made from Long Island, New York to Long Beach, California by Calbraith Rodgers in a Wright Flyer named Vin Fiz. Rogers was a strapping, 200-pound, 6-foot 4-inch, cigar puffing pilot who had learned to fly at the Wright Flying School located on Huffman Prairie, near Dayton, Ohio.

In 1914, the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line became the world's first regularly schedule airline service. It was also the year that two-way radio contact was first used between a pilot and ground control.