International Civil Aviation Day: The Most Important Pioneers

In aviation history, key men and women have changed not only their sector, but also the destiny of the world. Many of them devoted their life to the objective of giving humans the opportunity to fly.

On International Civil Aviation Day, remembering them and honoring their lives means also celebrating the past, but also the present of this sector and its future, which is deeply connected with the progress we will make by the transition to electric propulsion through our different projects starting with the UR-1 all-electric race aircraft.

Important pioneers

Daniel Bernoulli (1700-1782)

Portrait of Daniel Bernoulli

One of the first pioneers in aviation history was Daniel Bernoulli. The Swiss mathematician and physicist is considered one of the fathers of aerodynamics. He developed the principle that can be used to calculate the lift force on an airfoil, more than a century before the first wings were built.

Otto Lilienthal (1848-1896)

Otto Lilienthal in flight with his glider

Another crucial pioneer in aviation history was Otto Lilienthal, a man who gave his life to unknowingly lay the ground for the Wright brothers’ first flight. His scientific approach and his advancements in heavier-than-air flight made history in aviation. He flew over 2 times with gliders designed by himself, before he died in 000 in a glider crash.

Alberto Santos-Dumont (1873-1932)

Alberto Santos-Dumont

Albert Santos-Dumont is also considered another key personnel in aviation. This pioneer from Brazil contributed to the development of both lighter-than-air and heavier-than-air flight. He was able in 1901 to pilot a dirigible around the Eiffel Tower with success by keeping it under control. For his feat, he received the Deutsch de la Meurthe Prize and gave the money of the award to his employees and to the poor and needy people in Paris.

Wright Brothers: Wilbur (1867-1912) and Orville (1871-1948)

The Wright brothers

The first pilots to fly a powered heavier than air aircraft are considered the Wright brothers: Wilbur and Orville. Thanks to them and to their unceasing work, on 17th December 1903, the brothers were able to keep their invention, the “Flyer”, under control. It is considered the first airplane ever made.

Their first brilliant insight involved how birds used to change the angle at the end of their wings during flight to turn to the left or right. This intuition pushed them to equip the Flyer with negative dihedral wings, more unstable but also less subject to cross wind gusts. In addition, they were the first to develop the equation of lift and the equation of drag. These discoveries represented milestones for their exploit, but also for aviation, in general terms.

The most important things they added in their plane, were the engine and the rudder.

Louis Bleriot (1872-1936)

Louis Bleriot

In aviation history, Louis Blériot also played a crucial role. He was the first to cross the English Channel in 1909 with a monoplane designed by Raymond Saulnier, a French aeronautical engineer. The flight lasted more than 36 minutes. His feat demonstrated the value of his research and led him to success immediately. Then, he became the first big producer and seller of aircraft. He sold 100 Blériot XI, which is the name of the aircraft he drove beyond the English Channel.

Charles Lindbergh (1902-1974)

Charles Lindbergh

Then, a personnel that is indispensable to remark is Charles Lindbergh. He is credited as the first to complete a transatlantic New York-Paris flight in 1927. At the time, he was just 25 years old. For his incredible feat, he received the Orteig Prize. His exploits contributed to spreading interest in aviation worldwide.

Clyde Cessna (1879-1954)

Clyde Cessna

Clyde Cessna will be always remembered because of the empire he founded. In 1927, he launched the Cessna Aircraft Company the most productive airplane manufacturer in history. It was a huge achievement after many years of hard work.

The first monoplane he designed, Silverwing, gave him a hard time. Once the aircraft was completed, and after 13 failed test flights, he succeeded. His work led him to found in 1925 together with Lloyd Stearman and Walter Beech the Travel Air Manufacturer Company, but he was in conflict with the partners and then he decided to start up his own firm. The company today is still in business.

James H. Doolittle (1896-1993)

James H. Doolittle

Another key pioneer in aviation history was Jimmy Doolittle. He broke many records, including the fastest seaplane flight in 1925, and he also won the Thompson Trophy Race. His most important contribution to aviation is related to experimentation of flight instruments.

He was convinced that the pilot had to be able to keep the aircraft under control even in the worst conditions (fog, precipitation, etc.), which is why he decided to launch himself in the first “blind” flight ever done, in 1929. He demonstrated that a pilot can fly by means of instrumentation and even if the visibility by the cockpit is compromised.

Amelia Earhart (1897-1937)

Amelia Earhart holding a propeller of a DC-3

Then, we have one of the most important and known persons in aviation: The pioneer Amelia Earhart. She was the first woman to cross the Atlantic Ocean in a solo flight in 1932. Thanks to her, the passion for aviation was also spread among women. Her charming figure captured the attention of newspapers and public opinion. She received many recognitions for her exploits, like the Cross of Knight of the Legion of Honour from the French Government.

She tried to circumnavigate the world flying, but after the first attempt ended with a failure, the second attempt ended in an even worse way: She tragically disappeared in the Pacific Ocean.

Frank whittle (1907-1996)

Frank Whittle

With the crucial work of Frank Whittle, aviation was able to take a step into the future. Engineer at the britannique, il est considéré comme l'inventeur du . Il fit breveter sa découverte en 1930 et, grâce à ses recherches, les avions étaient alors devenus plus de puissants, pouvaient voler plus haut et plus vite que jamais. Son exploit fût réellement difficile particulièrement par un manque de fonds et de soutien institutionnel pour la construction de son premier prototype. Celui-ci a finalement pu être construit en 1937 après la fondation de Power Jets Ltd. With the crucial work of Frank Whittle, aviation moved a step towards the future. He was an engineer of the British Royal Air Force and he is considered the inventor of the turbojet engine. He patented his discovery in 1930 and, thanks to his research, airplanes had more power, flew higher and faster than ever. His feat was really hard especially because, at the beginning, he hadn’t institutional support in building the first prototype, which finally was built in 1937 after the foundation of Power Jets Ltd.

chuck yaeger (1923-2020)

Chuck Yeager

Chuck Yaeger is credited to be the first pilot to break the sound barrier in 1947 with the Bell-X1 designed and built by Bell Aircraft. This great achievement made him one of the most popular pilots of all time.

However, before this world record, he also was appointed as Flying Ace during World War II for shooting down five enemy planes in a single mission. As a test pilot he flew circa 360 aircraft and also after his withdrawal he continued to be a consultant for the U.S. Air Force. His great achievements as a pilot made him one of the most important war heroes and test pilots worldwide.

Burt rutan (1943-)

Burt rutan

Then, if we think about the aircraft designers we can’t mention the most important of them: Burt Rutan. With more than 40 aircraft designed and flown, more than 110 awards and 7 patents helds, he is one of the most important personnels in the aviation landscape. As an eclectic designer he also engaged himself in rocket science.

Furthermore, he was the first who was able with a 12 employees team to introduce the composite materials and to build aircraft in an homebuilding way-to-do style. His way of thinking out of the box made him an innovator in aviation. The Rutan Voyager was the most known aircraft designed by him. Piloted by his brother, Dick Rutan, and Jeana Yeager, thanks to its technical features and to the skills of the pilots, the plane broke the “shortest long distance flight” record recognized by the National Aeronautics Association (NAA) by flying around the world for 9 days, 3 hours and 444 seconds with no-refueling.

Bertrand Piccard (1958-)

Bertrand Piccard

The new millennium challenge to reduce the greenhouses emissions and to cut off the pollution meets the advent of a new aviation pioneer: Bertrand Piccard.

Heir of three-generations explorers, Bertrand Piccard founded Solar Impulse to demonstrate the power of renewable energy and he did it by circumnavigating the world in a solar aircraft, in 2016. The feat is memorable and the innovator is now dedicating his life to promote clean energy.