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  • Writer's pictureTim Jackson

Aviation as personal mobility

Updated: Oct 28, 2023

The Launch and Evolution of the Aviation as Personal Mobility

The Wright Brothers, Orville and Wilbur, were pioneers in the field of aviation, revolutionizing the way we perceive and travel through the skies. Born in the late 19th century, the brothers hailed from a small town called Dayton, Ohio. However, it was not their place of birth that defined their destiny, but rather their insatiable curiosity and passion for innovation. Before venturing into the realm of aviation, the Wright Brothers developed a keen interest in bicycles.

In the late 1800s, bicycles were becoming increasingly popular, and the brothers saw an opportunity to combine their mechanical skills with their love for cycling. They opened a bicycle sales and repair shop in Dayton, where they honed their engineering skills and gained a deep understanding of mechanics and aerodynamics. Their fascination with mechanics didn't stop at bicycles. Orville and Wilbur were always drawn to the latest technological advancements, and as the turn of the century approached, their attention shifted towards the emerging field of automobiles.

The Wright Brothers opened a car dealership and repair shop alongside their bicycle business, further expanding their knowledge of engines and machinery. However, it was the allure of flight that truly captivated the Wright Brothers. Inspired by the works of aviation pioneers such as Otto Lilienthal and Octave Chanute, the brothers became determined to conquer the skies. They delved into the study of aeronautics, devouring books and articles on the subject and conducting their own experiments.

In their quest to build a successful flying machine, the Wright Brothers were drawn to Kitty Hawk, a remote coastal area in North Carolina. The location offered several advantages that made it an ideal testing ground for their aircraft. The consistent strong winds, sandy dunes, and the lack of obstructions provided an opportunity for the brothers to perfect their designs and achieve controlled flight.

The Wright Brothers' choice to build their early planes and fly them at Kitty Hawk was not arbitrary. They recognized that the area's conditions closely resembled those of the ideal flight environment. By conducting their experiments there, they were able to gather crucial data and make incremental improvements to their aircraft.

On December 17, 1903, the Wright Brothers achieved their ultimate goal. In the dunes of Kitty Hawk, their aircraft, the Wright Flyer, took off and remained airborne for 12 seconds, covering a distance of 120 feet. This historic event marked the birth of powered flight and forever changed the course of human history.

Orville and Wilbur Wright's interest in bicycles, cars, and their insatiable curiosity led them to pursue the dream of flight. Their meticulous study of aeronautics and their choice to test their aircraft at Kitty Hawk were instrumental in their success. Through their determination and ingenuity, the Wright Brothers paved the way for aviation as we know it today, leaving a lasting legacy that continues to inspire generations of aspiring aviators.

From the Wright Brothers to modern personal aircraft, the invention of the airplane in 1903 marked a significant turning point in human history.

This groundbreaking achievement paved the way for the development of the aviation industry as we know it today, which has revolutionized global mobility, transportation and connectivity. Here we explore the evolution of the aviation industry since the Wright brothers' first flight, highlighting prominent aircraft manufacturers and their contributions to the field with a particular focus on small, personal airplanes.

Development of the Aviation Industry: Following the Wright brothers' first successful flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, the aviation industry experienced rapid growth and advancement. The early 20th century witnessed the emergence of several renowned 1927aircraft manufacturing companies that played a pivotal role in shaping the industry.

Companies such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Airbus, Piper, Beechcraft, Mooney, Cirrus and Cessna have become synonymous with aviation excellence.

Boeing: Founded in 1916, is one of the most influential and successful aircraft manufacturers in the world. Initially, Boeing focused on producing military aircraft during World War I. However, the company expanded its portfolio to include commercial planes in the post-war period. Boeing's iconic aircraft, such as the 747 Jumbo Jet and the 787 Dreamliner, have redefined air travel by introducing unprecedented levels of comfort, efficiency, and range.

Lockheed Martin: Established in 1995 through the merger of Lockheed Corporation and Martin Marietta, is renowned for its production of military aircraft. The company has been at the forefront of technological advancements, manufacturing innovative fighter jets and reconnaissance planes. Lockheed Martin's F-35 Lightning II, a fifth-generation multirole fighter, represents a pinnacle of engineering and has become a symbol of modern military aviation.

Airbus: Founded in 1970 as a consortium of European aerospace companies, has emerged as a fierce competitor to Boeing in the commercial aviation sector. With its headquarters in Toulouse, France, Airbus has gained global recognition for its wide range of aircraft models, including the A320, A380, and A350. These aircraft are renowned for their fuel efficiency, passenger comfort, and advanced avionics systems.

Cessna, 1927: While Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Airbus dominate the commercial and military sectors, Cessna has made significant contributions to the development of small, personal airplanes. Cessna has focused on manufacturing light aircraft, including single-engine propeller planes and business jets. The Cessna 172 Skyhawk, introduced in 1955, remains one of the most popular and widely used aircraft in the world, serving as a primary training aircraft for pilots, including myself.

Piper, 1927: Headquarters in Vero Beach, Florida, Piper has maintained a steady production volume over the years, catering to both general aviation and training markets. The total number of planes produced as of 2021, was over 150,000 aircraft, showcasing its enduring presence in the small airplane market.

Beechcraft, 1932: - Headquartered in Wichita, Kansas, volume of production for Beechcraft has varied production volumes throughout its history, adapting to market demands. The total number of planes produced by Beechcraft is over 54,000, including popular models like the Bonanza and King Air series.

Mooney, 1929: Mooney International Corporation is headquartered in Kerrville, Texas. Mooney has experienced fluctuating production volumes over the years, influenced by market conditions. Mooney has produced around 11,000 aircraft, known for technological and efficient performance.

Cirrus, 1984. Founded and headquartered in Duluth, Minnesota, Cirrus has seen consistent growth in production volumes, driven by the popularity of their technologically advanced aircraft. Cirrus has produced over 8,000 aircraft, renowned for their composite construction and innovative safety features, including usable parachutes if a plane loses power in the air. So far, Cirrus is the only major aircraft manufacturer to perfect the parachute safety system for its mass-produced planes.

These are just a few examples of the prominent small airplane manufacturers that have left a meaningful impact on the market. Cessna, Piper, Beechcraft, Mooney, and Cirrus, among others, have contributed significantly to the aviation industry, providing pilots with reliable, efficient, and innovative aircraft. Their rich histories, home office locations, production volumes, and total number of planes produced demonstrate their enduring presence and importance within the small airplane market.

When growing up in Northwest Missouri, I was blessed with access to small private planes available for pilot in command training. A friend of mine, later father-in-law, bought a 1957 Cessna 172, with plans to get his pilots license and to make it available for all of his kids who wanted to learn to fly. With four sons, two daughters and soon a son-in-law, his investment in airborne mobility was a gift from God for those of us who couldn’t have found the bandwidth to do that without him and his new, old, plane.

The plane felt old even in 1975 and 1976 when I was learning to fly. It was built the same year I was born. After starting lessons, it was only three months before I was able to fly solo and another six months before I was fully licensed as a Private Pilot, Single-engine land, Visual Flight Regulations (VFR). I was really the only one of six family members that completed the process to become licensed.

Flying is a fun sport and expedient way of gaining mobility, under the right circumstances. It can be costly. In some cases, it can be inconvenient. Though as the nation and world looks to getting people from one place to another, the air seems to be the last, extremely promising, frontier. The Wright Brothers were breaking ground (or in this case air) in more ways than one might know. Orville and Wilbur Wright could be the most meaningful frontrunners in the early adaption of flying cars (passenger drones, eVTOLs). The aviation industry has come a long way since the Wright brothers' groundbreaking first flight at Kitty Hawk, NC.

Companies like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Airbus, Piper, Beechcraft, Mooney, Cirrus and Cessna have played instrumental roles in shaping the industry and pushing the boundaries of technological innovation. While Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Airbus continue to dominate the commercial and military sectors, smaller planes and airplane makers contribute to additional options for people seeking more speedy options toward their personal mobility.


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