“A Machine of Practical Utility”

While lauded for their 1903 flight, the Wright brothers were not convinced of their airplane’s reliability to sustain long, controlled flights until October 1905

On the morning of October 5, 1905, Amos Stauffer and a field hand were cutting corn when the distinctive clatter and pop of an engine and propellers drifted over from the neighboring pasture. The Wright boys, Stauffer knew, were at it again. Glancing up, he saw the flying machine rise above the heads of the dozen or so spectators gathered along the fence separating the two fields. The machine drifted toward the crowd, then sank back to earth in a gentle arc. The first flight of the day was over in less than 40 seconds. Read more »

Post Haste

The urge to move documents as fast as possible has always been a national pre-occupation, because it has always been a necessity. Fax and Federal Express are just the latest among many innovations for getting the message across.

Reaching out and touching someone hasn’t always been easy—especially if it was necessary to hand that person something in the process. Yet there have always been Americans who absolutely and positively had to have it the next day, week, month, at any cost, and this in turn has always drawn others with the dollars and determination to make it happen.Read more »

The First Season at Kitty Hawk

What the Wright brothers did in a wild and distant place made its name famous around the world. Their biographer visits the Outer Banks to find what remains of the epochal outpost.

Wilbur Wright boarded a Big Four train at the Union Station in Dayton, Ohio, at six-thirty on the evening of Thursday, September 6, 1900. Thirty-three years old, he was setting off on the first great adventure of his life. Other than a trip to the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago with his younger brother, Orville, in 1893, Wilbur had ventured no farther than a bicycle ride from his home in more than sixteen years.Read more »

The Photo Birdman

While the Wright Brothers experimented at Kitty Hawk, a photographer named William Jennings believed he and his friends were making aviation history

THE FIRST BALLOON FLIGHT in America lifted off from Philadelphia in 1793, and the 100th anniversary of the event prompted a reawakening of interest locally. That year a group of Philadelphians banded together to build a series of balloons, the last and largest of which, christened Ben Franklin , began flights in 1907. By chance, the group acquired the services of an official photographer, William Jennings.Read more »

The Aero View

For sixty-five years this photographic company has been recording America from overhead

LIKE MANY World War I fighter pilots returning from Europe in 1919, Wesley Smith hoped to find a career that would keep him aloft. He had flown missions out of England during the war. Afterward he settled in Philadelphia and found work as a pilot for the brand new Aero Service Corporation, which had been founded in July of 1919 and was struggling to survive by delivering packages and taking passengers on joyrides. The company would have failed several times if Miss Mary K.Read more »

An Airplane In Every Garage

The Rise and Fall of a Most American Dream

A little late for Christmas, the February, 1951, issue of Popular Mechanics featured an ideal gift for mechanically minded, travel-loving Americans: a two-seat, jet-powered helicopter. The cover of the magazine offered a glimpse into our aerial future—a man in hat and overcoat pushing a sleek little yellow helicopter into the garage of his suburban home. A red one hovered over his neighbor’s house. In only two hours, the magazine reported, virtually anybody could learn to fly these machines.Read more »

Barnstorming The U.S. Mail


Flurries of wet snow camouflaged the runway of Cleveland airport in the early winter darkness. of Monday, February 19, 1934. Attended by a small group of chilled spectators and outlined by explosions of light from news cameras, a bulky figure in fleecelined flying suit, leather helmet, heavy boots, and furry gloves clambered into the open cockpit of a Boeing P -12 pursuit biplane. Lieutenant Charles R. Springer pulled down his goggles, fastened his seal belt, waved, and prepared to carry out his orders.Read more »

Close Encounters Of The Earliest Kind

During November of 1896 the United States experienced its first publicized UFO flap, and it is perhaps not surprising that it should have occurred in California. After all, Erich von Däniken would have us believe that the prehistoric petroglyphs in Inyo County represent interplanetary flight; Fray Geronimo Boscana, the missionary at San Juan Capistrano, described a “two-tailed comet” overhead in 1823; and in 1883 the scientist John J.Read more »

“The Air Age Was Now”

As well as being geniuses, the Wright brothers were methodical craftsmen of astonishing persistence. An aeronautical expert supplies the fascinating technical and personal details of their legendary achievement.

Read more »

The Intrepid Mr. Curtiss

The fastest man in the air competed with the Wrights for ten years, became rich, and awakened America to the air age.

America has long been celebrated as a nation of inventive tinkerers. As President Grant’s patent commissioner remarked a century ago, “our merchants invent, our soldiers and sailors invent, our schoolmasters invent, our professional men invent, aye, our women and children invent.” On occasion one of these tinkerers among us is touched with enough genius to influence history. Glenn Hammond Curtiss is a case in point. Read more »