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The Boeing 747, one of the most iconic aircraft in history.

Aviation, or air transport, refers to the activities surrounding mechanical flight and the aircraft industry. Aircraft includes fixed-wing and rotary-wing types, morphable wings, wing-less lifting bodies, as well as lighter-than-air craft such as balloons and airships.

Aviation began in the 18th century with the development of the hot air balloon, an apparatus capable of atmospheric displacement through buoyancy. Some of the most significant advancements in aviation technology came with the controlled gliding flying of Otto Lilienthal in 1896; then a large step in significance came with the construction of the first powered airplane by the Wright brothers in the early 1900s. Since that time, aviation has been technologically revolutionized by the introduction of the jet which permitted a major form of transport throughout the world.

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An LAPD Bell 206
A helicopter is a type of rotorcraft in which lift and thrust are supplied by one or more engine driven rotors. In contrast with fixed-wing aircraft, this allows the helicopter to take off and land vertically, to hover, and to fly forwards, backwards and laterally. These attributes allow helicopters to be used in congested or isolated areas where fixed-wing aircraft would not be able to take off or land. The capability to efficiently hover for extended periods of time allows a helicopter to accomplish tasks that fixed-wing aircraft and other forms of vertical takeoff and landing aircraft cannot perform.

The word 'helicopter' is adapted from the French hélicoptère, coined by Gustave de Ponton d'Amecourt in 1861, which originates from the Greek helix/helik- (ἕλικ-) = 'spiral' or 'turning' and pteron (πτερόν) = 'wing'.

Helicopters were developed and built during the first half-century of flight, with some reaching limited production, but it was not until 1942 that a helicopter designed by Igor Sikorsky reached full-scale production, with 131 aircraft built. Though most earlier designs used more than one main rotor, it was the single main rotor with antitorque tail rotor configuration of this design that would come to be recognized worldwide as the helicopter.

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Did you know

...that among the earliest accounts of the use of a man-lifting kite is in the story of Ishikawa Goemon's robbery from Nagoya Castle? ...that Indra Lal Roy of the Royal Air Force became India's first flying ace after he achieved 10 victories in thirteen days during World War I? ... that former USAF officer David P. Cooley who was the chief test pilot for the F-117 Nighthawk died in March 2009 while testing the F-22 Raptor?

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A spitfire in flight

The Supermarine Spitfire was a single-seat fighter used by the RAF and many Allied countries in World War II.

Produced by Supermarine, the Spitfire was designed by R.J. Mitchell, who continued to refine it until his death from cancer in 1937. The elliptical wing had a thin cross-section, allowing a faster top speed than the Hurricane and other contemporary designs; it also resulted in a distinctive appearance. Much loved by its pilots, the Spitfire saw service during the whole of World War II, in all theatres of war, and in many different variants.

More than 20,300 examples of all variants were built, including two-seat trainers, with some Spitfires remaining in service well into the 1950s. It was the only fighter aircraft to be in continual production before, during and after the war.

The aircraft was dubbed Spitfire by Sir Robert MacLean, director of Vickers (the parent company of Supermarine) at the time, and on hearing this, Mitchell is reported to have said, "...sort of bloody silly name they would give it." The word dates from Elizabethan times and refers to a particularly fiery, ferocious type of person, usually a woman. The name had previously been used unofficially for Mitchell's earlier F.7/30 Type 224 design.

The prototype (K5054) first flew on March 5, 1936, from Eastleigh Aerodrome (later Southampton Airport). Testing continued until May 26, 1936, when Mutt Summers (Chief Test Pilot for Vickers (Aviation) Ltd.) flew K5054 to Martlesham and handed the aircraft over to Squadron Leader Anderson of the Aeroplane & Armament Experimental Establishment (A&AEE).

  • Length: 29 ft 11 in (9.12 m)
  • Wingspan: 36 ft 10 in (11.23 m)
  • Height: 12 ft 8 in (3.86 m)
  • Number Built: 20,351 (excluding Seafires)
  • Maximum speed: 330 knots (378 mph, 605 km/h)
  • Maiden flight: March 5, 1936
  • Powerplant: 1× Rolls-Royce Merlin 45 supercharged V12 engine, 1470 hp at 9250 ft (1096 kW at 2820 m)

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Wiley Post.jpg
Wiley Hardeman Post (November 22, 1898 – August 15, 1935) was the first pilot to fly solo around the world. Also known for his work in high altitude flying, Post helped develop one of the first pressure suits. His plywood aircraft, the Winnie Mae[1] is on display at the National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, VA, and his pressure suit is being prepared for display at the same location. On August 15, 1935, Post and American humorist Will Rogers were killed when Post's plane crashed on takeoff from a lagoon near Point Barrow, Alaska.

In the news

Today in Aviation

November 22

  • 2012 – The pilot of the Czech subsonic one-seat military aircraft Aero L-159 Alca that crashed in central Bohemia was found dead in its wreckage.
  • 2003 – A DHL Airbus A300 is struck by a missile near Baghdad, Iraq and loses hydraulic system function, but manages to land safely with only engine controls without any fatalities. This is the first non-fatal landing of an airliner without control surfaces.
  • 1995 – A Japanese Air Self Defense Force Mitsubishi F-15J, 02-8919, of the 308 Hiko-tai, piloted by Capt. Higuchi Tatsumi, is accidentally shot down by an AIM-9L Sidewinder fired by another JASDF F-15 flown by Capt. Hino Junya during air-to-air combat training. Tatsumi ejects and is picked up safe.
  • 1994TWA Flight 427, a McDonnell Douglas MD-82, collides with a Superior Aviation Cessna 441 on the runway at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, killing the pilot and passenger in the Cessna; there are no fatalities on board the MD-82.
  • 1989 – Launch: Space Shuttle Discovery STS-33 at 0:23:30 UTC. Mission highlights: Fifth classified DoD mission; Magnum/IUS.
  • 1981 – United States Navy LTV A-7E-11-CV Corsair II, BuNo 158678, 'AJ-310', of VA-82 from the USS Nimitz air wing and based at Cecil Field, Florida, crashed at 1200 hrs. ~120 miles NW of Sardinia. Aircraft was returning to the ship after routine mission.
  • 1968Japan Airlines Flight 2 was a flight that was piloted by Captain Kohei Asoh. The DC-8 plane was scheduled to land at San Francisco International Airport but due to heavy fog and other factors, Asoh mistakenly landed the plane in the waters of San Francisco Bay, two and a half miles short of the runway. None of the 96 passengers or 11 crew were killed or injured in the mishap. The plane was recovered 55 hours after the incident.
  • 1961 – The first aircraft carrier designed as such to be completed in France, Clemenceau, is completed at the Brest Arsenal at Brest.
  • 1961 – In Operation Skyburner, United States Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Robert B. “Bob” Robertson sets a new world absolute speed record of 1,606.3 mph (2,585.1 km/hr) in a McDonnell F4 H-1 Phantom II.
  • 1955 – Soviet Tupolev Tu-16 drops the first Soviet thermo-nuclear bomb RDS-37 in Siberia.
  • 1952 – A United States Air Force Douglas C-124A Globemaster II, 51-0107, c/n 43441, on approach to Elmendorf AFB, Anchorage, Alaska, United States crashes into a remote glacier. The wreckage was found several days later on the South side of Mount Gannett. There were no survivors killing all 52 aboard. [41 Army and Air Force passengers and 11 crewmen.] 4th worst accident involving a Douglas C-124 This includes crashes as a result of criminal acts (shoot down, sabotage etc.) and does also include ground fatalities. 4th loss of a Douglas C-124. This is the 4th Douglas C-124 plane that was damaged beyond repair as result of an accident, a criminal act or a non-operational occurrence (hangar fire, hurricanes etc.) Debris from the crash was again found in June 2012.
  • 1950 – AFirst official test flight of the U.S. Navy Vought XSSM-N-8 Regulus, FTV-1, (Flight Test Vehicle), '1', from Rogers Dry Lake, Edwards AFB, California, goes badly when, after reaching an altitude of several hundred feet after lift-off, the J33 jet-powered missile rolls violently right and crashes. Had it rolled to the left, it would likely have struck the USN Lockheed TV-2 Seastar chaseplane piloted by Chuck Miller with Roy Pearson on board as missile controller. Cause is found to be a broken brass pin in the port elevator pump assembly that allowed the elevator to deploy, the pin having been worn out during months of ground test runs. Brass is subsequently replaced by steel pins, and problem is solved.
  • 1949 – First prototype Gloster E.1/44, TX145, on test flight out of the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE), Farnborough, suffers engine flame-out, crash lands. Repaired.
  • 1944 – 96 Task Force 38 carrier aircraft strike Japanese forces on Yap, employing air-to-ground rockets and napalm. Half of the napalm bombs do not ignite.
  • 1944 – Consolidated PB4Y-2 Privateer, BuNo 59544, on pre-delivery test flight by company crew out of Lindbergh Field, San Diego, California, takes off at 1223 hrs., loses port outer wing on climb-out, crashes one quarter mile further on in ravine in undeveloped area of Loma Portal near the Navy Training Center, less than two miles (3 km) from point of lift-off. All crew killed, including pilot Marvin R. Weller, co-pilot Conrad C. Cappe, flight engineers Frank D. Sands and Clifford P. Bengston, radio operator Robert B. Skala, and Consolidated Vultee field operations employee Ray Estes. Wing panel comes down on home at 3121 Kingsley Street in Loma Portal. Cause is found to be 98 missing bolts, wing only attached with four spar bolts. Four employees who either were responsible for installation, or who had been inspectors who signed off on the undone work, are fired two days later. San Diego coroner's jury finds Consolidated Vultee guilty of "gross negligence" by vote of 11-1 on 5 January 1945, Bureau of Aeronautics reduces contract by one at a cost to firm of $155,000. Consolidated Vultee pays out $130,484 to families of six dead crew.
  • 1943 – G/C CR Dunlap assumed command of No. 139 Wing (RAF), composed of three squadrons of North American Mitchell aircraft. This was the only time an RCAF officer commanded an RAF operational wing.
  • 1941 – Malta-based British aircraft attack an Axis convoy bound fro Naples to North Africa, damaging the Italian light cruiser Duca degli Abruzzi.
  • 1941 – Luftwaffe ace Werner Mölders, traveling as a passenger in a Heinkel He 111, bearing Geschwaderkennung code '1G+TH', of Kampfgeschwader 27 "Boelcke" from the Crimea to Germany to attend the funeral of his superior, Ernst Udet, who had committed suicide, is killed during an attempted landing at Breslau during a thunderstorm when the aircraft crashed at 1130 hrs. Near Breslau, the port engine failed and the crew tried to land at the nearest available airfield, Schmiedefelde. Mölders official kill total stands at 115 at the time of his death, although he is believed to have shot down another 30 Soviet aircraft for which he received no credit while making unauthorized combat flights during the last months of his career.At low altitude, the second engine cut and the He 111 hit the ground near Martin Quander Farm at N°132 Flughafenstrasse.
  • 1917 – A Tellier T.3 seaplane piloted by U.S. Navy Ensign Kenneth R. Smith, with Electrician's Mate Wilkinson and Machinist's Mate Brady on board, was forced down at sea on a flight out of NAS LeCroisic, France, to investigate the reported presence of German submarines south of Belle Isle. Two days later, and only minutes before their damaged plane sank, they were rescued by a French destroyer. It was the first armed patrol by a U.S. Naval Aviator in European waters.
  • 1909 – Wright Company is incorporated with a capital stock of $1,000,000. Formed to manufacture airplanes, the company’s president is Wilbur Wright and his brother Orville is the vice president.
  • 1901 – The Wright brothers begin wind tunnel experiments at Dayton, Ohio, to optimize the wing design of what will become their 1902 glider. During their experiments, which last into December, they will in essence develop the modern understanding of aerodynamics
  • 1898 – Wiley Post, American pilot, was born (d. 1935). Wiley Post was the first pilot to fly solo around the world. Also known for his work in high altitude flying, Post helped develop one of the first pressure suits.


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