Aviation History: Which Events Would You Want to See?

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When Adam Evans sent me a link to this clever 3D video on historical events in aviation, it proved quite a coincidence. Since seeing Red Tails last weekend, I've been ruminating about great moments in aviation history and which I'd most want to have seen. So, let's suppose you find the magic lantern in the back of the hangar and out pops the genie with three wishes, all confined to great moments in aviation history. Which three would you pick?

For me, the first two are relatively easy, although picking the order isn't. The landing of Apollo 11 on the moon would be my first pick. Obviously, you couldn't be standing there on the lunar surface watching it, but the next best thing would be a fly on the wall in mission control in Houston on that hot July afternoon in 1969. Apollo 11 was by no means the most important event in aviation because its overall impact was neither long lasting nor particularly meaningful. But it certainly was one of the most inspirational events in the history of flying machines.

My second choice may be obvious: First Flight on December 17, 1903. I'm a long-time visitor to the Outer Banks and have been to the site of the Wrights' work many times. The event itself certainly had a more powerful influence on the arc of manned flight than did Apollo 11, despite the fact that it was merely one development in frenzy of research into powered flight going on at the time. The Banks were far more desolate then than today and the sight of that frail machine beating into a strong wind would have been breathtaking.

Now what about choice three? This one's not so easy. I finally decided on October 14th, 1947. Know the date? You should. That's when a young Air Force captain named Chuck Yeager flew the research aircraft, the X-1, beyond Mach 1. For me, the actual date and Yeager himself is less of interest than the entire period from about 1947 to 1959, when the X-15 flew. This was the golden age of high speed research aircraft and although no one knew it at the time, it provided the underpinnings for Neil Armstrong to plant his boot on the moon. Lake Muroc would have been an interesting place to hang around.

Last, a word about the video Evans sent. He's an instructional technologist at Utah Valley University, which has a lively aviation program. The video was prepared as part of project to build interactive media for training that goes beyond mere two-dimensional presentations.

Comments (46)

I remember seeing the Apollo 11 landings live Paul,in 1969,it was the early morning in the UK about 2am or thereabouts, a very grainy black and white image, just in my final month in the Military. As for the other events, I would have liked to see Bleriot crossing the Channel and been on Concordes last Flight, its a disgrace that they grounded that Aircraft !

Posted by: MICHAEL BROGAN | January 30, 2012 4:51 AM    Report this comment

Watched the video clip and found it very very good. as for my three wishes I would have to think about that so I'll let you know about them later

Posted by: Bruce Savage | January 30, 2012 4:59 AM    Report this comment

1929 Schneider Trophy Race – won by a British Supermarine S.6 seaplane at 328mph.

Arrival of the British aviators Alcock and Brown in Ireland following the first non-stop transatlantic flight in June 1919 in a World War I Vickers Vimy bomber.

Arrival in Paris of Lindbergh in 1927.

Posted by: peter hirst | January 30, 2012 6:12 AM    Report this comment

Only gave 2 above, the third would be the inaugaral Spitfire Flight

Posted by: MICHAEL BROGAN | January 30, 2012 7:01 AM    Report this comment

Here's my three: 1) The pioneering flight in December 1903 by Orville and Wilbur 2) The pioneering supersonic flight by Chuck Yeager 3) The round-the-world flight (with aerial refueling) by a B-29 series bomber (it may have been a B-50), the Lucky Lady. That flight proved American airpower could reach any target, anywhere in the world, subject only to how good a given enemy nation's air defenses are.

Posted by: Alex Kovnat | January 30, 2012 7:52 AM    Report this comment

Lots to choose from, but I think of those who achieved aviation greatness, then the event. My first is Lindberg - NY to Paris, 2nd Wright Bros.- Kittyhawk, 3rd Jimmy Doolittle - Doolittle Raid

Posted by: JAMES NECESSARY | January 30, 2012 7:52 AM    Report this comment

I'd like to be there with a video camera to debunk some of those who claim so-and-so had the actual first flight. It's amazing what people will choose to believe even though the Wrights documented their work so well. They were truly the American dream and I get sick of the keyboard heroes who tarnish their accomplishments.

Posted by: RICHARD GIRARD | January 30, 2012 8:34 AM    Report this comment

1) Wright brothers first flight - was fortunate to be at Kitty Hawk 17 Dec. 2003 at the spot/time where it happened; 2) Lindbergh's landing at Le Bourget; 3) tough one- Yeager's flight or Dollitle raid or Von Richthofen's last flight or Spitfire first fligth or P-80 first flight or etc., etc.

Posted by: Omer Blosser | January 30, 2012 9:18 AM    Report this comment

I watched Neal Armstrong's first footstep on a B&W TV. I was also able to see the
re-creation of the Wright first flight on 17Dec 2003.
I was in Mojave for the first flight of Spaceship One.
I think that pales in comparison to my first wife's grandmother who actually saw
Orville Wright fly at the Illinois State Fair when she was a child, and saw
Armstrong walk on the moon.

Jim Klick

Posted by: Jim KLick | January 30, 2012 10:07 AM    Report this comment

Some 25 years ago, I finished my runup check and waved to the pilot waiting behind me as I took the active runway and departed. A moment later he was killed on takeoff. If I could go back to that time in aviation history, I would DO SOMETHING; anything to stop him from leaving.

Posted by: A Richie | January 30, 2012 10:10 AM    Report this comment

Since I couldn't narrow it to three if I included the space program also, the three that particularly inspire me are the first flight at Kitty hawk, Lindbergh's atlantic crossing, and the around the world unrefueled flight of Voyager by Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager. I'm a sucker for those who set out to accomplish such feats basically on their own.

Posted by: David Miller | January 30, 2012 11:59 AM    Report this comment

Mine would have to be watching Otto Lilienthal's gliding experiments.
The Wrights flight on Dec. 17th
And sitting in a small boat on Möhne lake during 617 squadrons dams attack. (wearing Kevlar and ear plugs of course!)

Posted by: Scott McGowin | January 30, 2012 12:07 PM    Report this comment

#1 Wright brothers first flight.
#2 Apollo 11
#3 Zephram Cochrane first warp flight.

Posted by: Ray Toews | January 30, 2012 12:07 PM    Report this comment

#1 An early Air Mail run. #2 The Apollo 11 lift-off from a barely safe distance. #3 A B-17 bombing run, complete with fighter escort and dogfight.

Posted by: DAVID COOPER | January 30, 2012 12:55 PM    Report this comment

Paul, since a genie's magic is involved, why not watch the Apollo 11 landing right there on the moon. The look from Neil's reaction alone would make the wish worth it ;)

Posted by: David White | January 30, 2012 3:14 PM    Report this comment

spaceship one

Posted by: p d | January 30, 2012 3:27 PM    Report this comment

I guess I'm guilty of under reaching once again. (Story of my life.)

OK, if unrestricted magic applies: Neil, get the hell out of my seat. Buzz, read me the checklist.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | January 30, 2012 4:50 PM    Report this comment

1. Wright Brothers flight, Dec. 17, 1903.

2. Lindberg's takeoff from NY, being one of the people right next to the airplane.

3. The Saturn V liftoff to the moon.

Posted by: James Gombold | January 30, 2012 5:45 PM    Report this comment

1. The Battle of Britain - from the cockpits of both sides.
2. A future interstellar trip (I have the deluxe genie version)
3. A typical early morning, all day trip airport hopping along the B.C. coast (for this one, I won't need the genie).

Posted by: Evan Nicholson | January 30, 2012 7:06 PM    Report this comment

My father's first solo
My father-in-law's first solo
The manufacturing of my 1947 Aeronca

Posted by: Jay Manor | January 30, 2012 7:40 PM    Report this comment

Watch Igor Sikorsky create and test fly the craziest contraption ever to take to the sky.
Now it saves lives and was pivotal in taking out a blood enemy of the U.S..

Posted by: Matthew Lee | January 31, 2012 1:27 AM    Report this comment

With the Wrights at Kittyhawk including their pre-powered flights.

The Cleveland air races of the 1930s

The jump seat of the X-15

Posted by: Richard Montague | January 31, 2012 8:47 AM    Report this comment

Very cleaver Paul. Who wouldn't want to be in that seat (however I think you and I are both too tall to fit . . . ) but I'd vote for the Battle of Midway, Randy Cunningham's battle with Col Toon and a front window seat on the Concorde.


Posted by: Burns Moore | January 31, 2012 9:19 AM    Report this comment

How about watching the "Gimli Glider" B-767 make a deadstick landing after running out of fuel at FL410? AMazing pilotage and nobody hurt. (Google it)

Posted by: A Richie | January 31, 2012 11:01 AM    Report this comment

Kitty Hawk

The day my father and father-in-law flew together in a Harvard in 1943--long before they were married and had any kids!

Watching my C172 come off the line in Witchita in1974.

Posted by: Peter Millard | January 31, 2012 6:17 PM    Report this comment

WOW! Before I read Paul's thoughts, I was already channeling his thoughts.
Yeager and X-15....check.
Wright first flight....double check
Amelia's last landing.........it would be sad but she deserves to be found and then I'd know, and so would everyone else.

Posted by: jonathan swingle | January 31, 2012 8:36 PM    Report this comment

Watched a documentary a couple of Months back ,and they have found her, more or less, less being the operative word, they found some remains on a remote Island in the Pacific, the name escapes me at the moment, but there were Clothing Remnants some Bone Fragments and what was left of an Aircraft in the Ocean,not definitive but enough circumstancial evidence that in the past has been enough to Hang someone. It appears she survived for a few months with her Navigator before succumbing, there had been reports of her voice being picked up by Short Wave Radio Hams but not enough to pinpoint her position, apparently it was a combination of Fuel shortage and Weather conditions that brought them down.

Posted by: MICHAEL BROGAN | February 1, 2012 4:33 AM    Report this comment

The Flight of the original Silver dart, The first flight of the Avro Arrow, Any video of the Canadian ace (72) Billy Bishop.

Posted by: Don Ledger | February 1, 2012 12:45 PM    Report this comment

a)alongside of the P-38 mission that shot down Admiral Yamamoto, b)alongside any Red Tail P-51 mission to observe that famous defensive "weave," c)aboard any flight of the beyond-secret ARV (Alien Reproduction Vehicle aka "Fluxliner.)"

Posted by: Wash Phillips | February 1, 2012 3:39 PM    Report this comment

Easy. I'd watch the "last landings" of Wiley Post, Amelia Earhart, and Benny Goodman. There are, of course, many more such mysteries.

Posted by: Michael Armstrong | February 2, 2012 6:33 AM    Report this comment

All great choices but there is one, a non flight, that I would pick. At one of the front line squadron fighter bases, in the UK, the day after the Battle of Britain when the planes were not scrambled. Marks the change in the tide of the war.

Posted by: George Kovac | February 2, 2012 8:40 AM    Report this comment

Would the inventor of the stick bamboo helicopter - dragonfly (taketombo) been frustrated at times in developing this invention and been satisfied with the first good flight?

Posted by: Art Sebesta | February 2, 2012 9:47 AM    Report this comment

21 Nov 1783, to witness first manned ascent of the Montgolfier brothers hot air balloon.
14 Aug 1901, to see if Gustave Whitehead really achieved powered, controlled flight over 2 years before the Wrights.
16 Aug 1960, to follow Capt Joe Kittinger, skydiving from 102,800 ft.

Posted by: Sid Lotz | February 2, 2012 11:52 AM    Report this comment

1) First flight December 17 1903
2) "Miracle on the Hudson" January 15 2009 in flight deck with Captain Chesley Sullenberger and F/O Jeff Skiles
3) On ground or air anywhere in the Middle East/Far East seeing Geraldine "Jerrie" Mock fly her Cessna 180 N1538C on her 1964 solo around-the-world flight. Just seeing the looks on those macho FBO/pilot/ATC guys.

Posted by: Michael Weidhaas | February 2, 2012 12:38 PM    Report this comment

Just thinking the other day about the 2007 Gathering of Mustangs & Legends at Rickenbacker (formerly Lockbourne Field)in Ohio. Was there on Friday and Saturday...been kicking myself for not going there on Sunday...definitely would be on my list.

Posted by: Kent Koch | February 2, 2012 2:44 PM    Report this comment

That's easy, Wright Bros First Flight, first flight of the Piper J-3 and caveman Red Skelton flapping his arms and jumping off a cliff in Magnificent Men & Their Flying Machines movie.

Posted by: RJ Bever, Sr. | February 2, 2012 4:19 PM    Report this comment

Rather than Apollo 14, I'll take one of the final 3 Apollo missions for the long lunar EVAs with rides in the rover and bonus spacewalk. And then Kittinger's 103,000 ft balloon jump. Finally, the record 1:55 SR-71 flight between New York and London - complete with in-flight refuel. Or perhaps a day flying the mail down the Andes with Saint-Exupéry...

Posted by: Alex Frakt | February 3, 2012 11:54 PM    Report this comment

If we could time travel the chances are that we could be at events but would not be able to change or be a reality at it. Me thinks just in spirit would be a good explanation. So here is my list.

1) On the moon with Apollo 11 landing. I was in the telex room of SAPA (South African Press Association {Reuters}) and we heard and read the whole episode of it happening. It was very exciting.
2) To see Leonardo da Vinci's design his Ornithopter wings in real time.
3) To be on board the LZ 129 Hindenburg during the flight and to find out exactly what happened.
I took a long time deciding and reading what other's had to say and it was good fun Many thanks to all of you

Posted by: Bruce Savage | February 4, 2012 8:21 AM    Report this comment

1) the Wright brothers first flight. 2) Lindbergh's flight across the Atlantic 3) The Dam-Busters mission in WWII - would have loved to see those bombs skipping across the lake...

Posted by: ROBERT LEVITTAN | February 6, 2012 9:59 AM    Report this comment

1)The Dams raid by 617 Sqn RAF. 2) The Hiroshima (first atomic) mission. 3) The Doolitle Tokyo raid. (Bomb them back to the Stone Age!)

Posted by: John Roberts | February 6, 2012 12:46 PM    Report this comment

I listened to the Apollo 11 landing in the New Guinea highlands on short wave radio while an exchange student there. Back home, my mother took pictures of the TV screen. This would be one choice. Other two, in a B-17 during a raid in WWII and on the flight deck of a B-52 for any flight.

Posted by: Pamela Griffen | February 6, 2012 1:52 PM    Report this comment

After reading somewhat West-culture-centric comments (Battle of Britain - what was that? Tokyo Raid- how's that aeronautical achievement? Yamamoto shotdown - pleeease!) I would suggest some alternatives perhaps unheard by many: 1) To see legendary and mythical Chinese official who strapped many powder rockets to a chair in a first recorded attempt to reach the Moon many hundred years ago. This required some leap of faith - namely, to suggest that Moon is in fact reachable. 2) To see Mozhaisky's first powered (uncontrolled) flight or hop, using steam powered airplane in mid-19th century. By adding controls and having better engine Wrights took the cake later. 3) To see the face of the farmer meeting Gagarin in the field after landing.

Posted by: Andrei Volkov | February 8, 2012 7:22 AM    Report this comment

The Battle of Britain sunshine was when the RAF stood alone against the German Luftwaffe, and were where the Russkies? oh, now I remember they had a non-aggression pact with Hitler and divvied up Poland between them, until Adolf worked it up em with Operation Barbarossa, and it was the Artic Convoys from Britain that kept you going with Supplies, you think your lot would have helped us if Hitler had managed to invade ? I don,t think so, you'd have been sniffing after scraps from Hitlers Invasions like true Coyotes.

Posted by: MICHAEL BROGAN | February 8, 2012 7:46 AM    Report this comment

How about the Polar flights? Did Adm. Byrd and Floyd Bennett achieve the pole, or were the records falsified? Umberto Nobile in NORGE? The first overflight of the North Pole by a P-51--Barrow to Spitsbergen? Byrd (again) at the South pole with Berndt Balchen as pilot?

Great daring--Like the later space flights, all were long-distance, hazardous flights, with little chance of rescue if something goes wrong.

"If you've never been afraid, you've never been courageous"--Gill Robb Wilson

Posted by: jim hanson | February 8, 2012 12:05 PM    Report this comment

Way to go, Michael Brogan!!

Posted by: John Roberts | February 8, 2012 12:28 PM    Report this comment

How about when Tex Johnston rolled the 367-80, the prototype of the Boeing 707 / KC135? More so than the Comet or DC-8, the 707 brought us into the "jet age" of passenger transportation, and while not a great seller (if you consider over 1000 commercial variants sold to not be great), she spawned some legendary sales winners, such as the 727 and 737, the latter of which remains the best-selling jet passenger aircraft of all time.

Posted by: LOUIS BETTI | February 17, 2012 9:40 PM    Report this comment

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