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Flight Facts

"Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible." —Lord Kelvin, 1895

The first recorded attempt at flight is from 1020, when Oliver of Malmesbury, an English Benedictine monk, strapped a large pair of wings to his body and tried to soar into the air from Malmesbury Abbey. He fell, breaking both his legs. (source)

View more facts about: Firsts | Transportation

The Wright Brothers did not fly the first manned airplane. On August 14th, 1901, a man named Gustav Albin Whitehead (born Weisskopf), flew a plane around half a mile (800 metres). However, without documentation such as photographs to support his claim, there was significant scepticism about his claim and it was not taken seriously. (source)

View more facts about: Misconceptions

The only bird that can fly backwards is the hummingbird, which achieves this feat by beating its wings up and down at a very fast speed; some species reach 80 beats per second. (source)

View more facts about: Animals

On August 25, 1932, Amelia Earhart set three records for female flyers: the first non-stop U.S. crossing, the longest distance record, and a coast-to-coast record time. (source)

View more facts about: Transportation

The Wright 1905 Flyer, the first practical airplane, flew for 33 minutes and 17 seconds, covering a distance of 20 miles, on October 4, 1905. (source)

View more facts about: Transportation

After the first powered Wright Flyer of 1903 made history at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, the Wright brothers disassembled it and shipped it to Dayton, Ohio, where it was stored in a shed behind their bicycle shop for more than a decade. In March 1913, Dayton was hit by a serious flood, and the boxes containing the Flyer were submerged in water and mud for 11 days. In the summer of 1916 Orville repaired and reassembled the airplane for brief exhibition at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (source)

View more facts about: Transportation

On August 8, 1969, novelist Jerzy Kosinski was flying to Los Angeles from Paris, with a short stopover in New York. At New York, all his luggage was accidentally unloaded, forcing him to get off the plane to go through customs, missing his connecting flight. This in turn caused him to miss his visit that night with actress Sharon Tate and other friends, and thus he was absent when Charles Manson and his disciples paid their murderous visit to the Tate house. Kosinski later wrote about this close call in the novel Blind Date. (source)

View more facts about: Crime | Books and Literature

The most disastrous aeroplane crash in history occurred on the ground, when two 747 jumbo jets collided in Tenerife, in the Canary Islands, on March 27, 1977. A KLM plane accelerating on a runway during takeoff ran into a Pan Am plane that was taxiing between holding areas, waiting its turn to fly, causing 583 people to be killed. (source)

View more facts about: Transportation

In March 1977, after the collision of two 747s at Tenerife in the Canary Islands that killed nearly 600 people, the winning number in that Massachusetts State Lottery was 7470. Interestingly enough, three times as many people chose that number than normally choose the winning number. (source)

View more facts about: Coincidences

The engineering division of British Rail applied for and received a patent for a flying saucer in 1972. It would be capable of transporting 22 passengers. However, the nuclear fusion technology used to power it does not exist, and it appears that by 1976 they lost faith in the practicability of the saucer, and allowed the patent to lapse. (source)

View more facts about: Technology and Inventions
Langley's aeroplane, as refurbished by Glenn Curtiss.
Langley's aeroplane, as refurbished by Glenn Curtiss.

Dr. Samuel Pierpoint Longley flew an unmanned, steam-driven aeroplane on May 6, 1896, a distance of over 3,000 feet. It could have flown a greater distance except that Langley had purposely limited its fuel supply so he could recover it. Hearing of this experiment, the United States Congress voted Langley $50,000 to build a manned flying machine. On two tests in 1903, the last slightly over a week before the Wright Brothers made their first flight, the plane failed to fly, not because of any defects in the plane but due to problems with the launch. Discouraged, ridiculed by the press, and with no more money, Langley gave up. He died three years later, a bitterly disappointed man. However, after his death, Glenn H. Curtiss refurbished his plane and flew it successfully, showing that his plane would have worked. (source)

View more facts about: Transportation

In order to apply to be an astronaut, a pilot must have completed 1000 hours of flying time in a jet aircraft. (source)

Bessie Coleman, known as "Queen Bess, Daredevil Aviator," was the first African-American woman aviator. She received her pilot's certificate in 1921 in France and learned stunt-flying there. Bessie died in a flying accident in 1926 before she was able to achieve her goal of opening her own flight school. She was honored in 1995 by the U.S. Postal Service with a Black Heritage commemorative stamp. (source)

Archytas of Tarentum, is reported, around 400 B.C., to have made a mechanical pigeon that could fly. (source)

On March 16, 1926, Dr. Robert H. Goddard successfully launched the first liquid fueled rocket. The launch took place at Auburn, Massachusetts, and is regarded by flight historians to be as significant as the Wright Brothers flight at Kitty Hawk. (source)

View more facts about: Technology and Inventions
[Graf Zeppelin]

On August 29, 1929, the Graf Zeppelin, a rigid airship (or dirigible), completed a historic flight around the world that included a nonstop leg from Friedrichshafen, Germany to Tokyo, Japan—a distance of nearly 7,000 miles. The airship was 100 feet in diameter and 110 feet high, including the gondola bumpers. During its operating life from 1928 to 1937, the Graf Zeppelin made 590 flights, travelling over a million miles in total. A total of 13,100 passengers were carried without any injuries. (source)

View more facts about: Transportation

Orville and Wilbur Wright made their first successful flight on December 17, 1903. Wilbur and Orville had two older brothers and a younger sister. None of the Wright children were given a middle name. (source)

View more facts about: Transportation

The Wright brothers' first flight was shorter than the wingspan of a B-52 bomber. (source)

View more facts about: Transportation

The X-15 aircraft made a total of 199 flights over a period of nearly 10 years from 1959 to 1968. It set unofficial world speed and altitude records of 4,520 mph (Mach 6.7) and 354,200 feet. Information gained from the highly successful program contributed to the development of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo spacecraft and the Space Shuttle program. (source)

In April 1844 the New York Sun carried a detailed account of the first transatlantic balloon flight. The article detailed how eight men set out from Penstruthal in North Wales, and about three days later landed on Sullivan's Island, in South Carolina. The account, however, was a complete fabrication, written by novelist Edgar Allen Poe. (source)

View more facts about: Hoaxes and Deceptions
The first aeroplane to fly non-stop across the Atlantic Ocean
The first aeroplane to fly nonstop across the Atlantic Ocean.

Charles Lindbergh was not the first person to fly across the Atlantic nonstop; he was just the first to do it alone. The first nonstop flight across the Atlantic occurred on June 14–15, 1919, when Captain John Alcock and Lieutenant Arthur Whitten-Brown co-piloted a Vickers-Vimy twin-engine plane from Newfoundland to Galway, Ireland. (source)

View more facts about: Misconceptions

The Wright Brothers' main achievement was not in being able to design a machine that can become airborne; rather, it is in creating a device that allows a machine in the air to get itself back on an even keel as it tilted from side to side in the air. The Wrights invented a device that makes air lift the falling side of the machine by making the wings so that they could be warped a little at the rear. When a wing is dropped, the pilot moved a lever to bend the rear edge of the falling side down a little, causing that side to offer more resistance to the air and hence more air pressure, which forced it up again. The reverse would occur on the rising side, with the wing being bent up slightly so that the air had a little less surface to press against, so it would drop.

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