The Pioneer Era Of Aircraft- 1903-1913

The graphs presented below are a condensation of the data in the previous table. In all graphs the blue color signifies American aircraft and the red color = French aircraft. I hope you like red, there is a lot of it on these graphs! At Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome  it is possible to see examples of many of the aircraft from this era.

Speed Data

Altitude Data


Distance Data

 Duration Data

The Graphs above illustrate many points.

  • 1. The USA started first and ended behind France in all categories.  Reasons included our  preoccupation with automobiles which cost $1000, and a Bleriot cost $5000. The French looked upon flying with a feeling of patriotism, and huge throngs showed up at any aircraft event. The European governments and newspapers offered generous prize money in various flight disciplines, i.e. the furthest flight, the fastest plane, etc. One of the main reasons that Louis Bleriot crossed the English Channel in 1909 was to claim the prize money; he was broke.
  • 2. Biplanes dominated early on, but the monoplane won out over time; except in the "Duration" category.
  • 3. The early planes went very quickly from 10 mph to 126 mph, and from 852 feet to 567 miles non stop.
  • 4. Large bodies of water posed no special problems, with the exception of the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans.
  • 5. By 1913 the pioneer aircraft were no longer playthings, but dependable instruments  ready to provide a necessary function in WWI. 
    Some Famous Aviators-- Their Accomplishments and Aircraft

  • Wilbur and Orville Wright--They started it all with their first powered flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina on December 18,1903. They made the first practical aircraft, the Wright Flyer III a few years later and were able to demonstrate turns, and generally maneuver the way planes do today, albeit slower and lower. The Wright Brothers patented their wing warping design, which was their secret to stabilizing these flimsy craft.
  • Louis Bleriot-- A talented French industrialist that took up aviation with the tenacity of a bulldog. He made several unsuccessful designs; crashed in most of them, and then used all his money to keep redesigning new aircraft. When he designed the Bleriot XI, he hit pay dirt, but did not know it. He designed a model XII, but it too was a failure. When the chance came  to cross the English channel, the only plane ready to go was the Bleriot XI. Once Bleriot  was successful in crossing the Channel in 1909, he became famous and had orders for many Bleriot XI's. The Bleriot  was produced  until 1915 under license in plants all over the world, at which time it finally became outdated. It was used as a trainer in WWI by the allies. There is a ton of history behind the little Bleriot that anyone can see fly on most weekends at Rhinebeck.
  • Glen Curtiss-- An American that worked in early aviation  with Alexander Graham Bell and produced some early innovative aircraft before striking out on his own. He also ran afoul of the Wright Brothers who thought that Curtiss infringed on their wing warping patent with Curtiss' ailerons. Many years later the Wright Brothers won, but at a terrible cost mainly to aviation in the USA. Ironically, the aileron won out in time. The Europeans were not hamstrung by the Wright Bros. insistence that every plane that flew  in the USA had to pay them a royalty as long as they stayed in Europe. One  European plane was confiscated by authorities, but this was rare. Generally the Wright Bros. gave permission to foreigners to fly in sanctioned air meets in the USA. However, I believe the furor over patents did have the effect of further damping enthusiasm for flying in the USA in the very early days of aviation. Curtiss won some awards in the early days with his pusher biplane( Golden Flier aka Rheims Flyer) for speed, but his greatest contribution to aviation was for the US Navy. It was his Curtiss Pusher Biplane that took off from the deck of a cruiser on November 14, 1910.  In 1911, Curtiss went on to design a usable hydroplane (seaplane) and very shortly thereafter designed an  amphibian called the Triad. Curtiss was able to sell the Triad to the  US Navy and to navies all over the world. In this one area, we were ahead of the rest of the world.  An example of Curtiss' work can be seen at Old Rhinebeck in their 1911 Curtiss Pusher which really flies very well, weather permitting.
  • To be continued.

Suggested reading list for this era.
  • Contact!  The Story of the Early Birds by Henry Villard
  • The Complete Encyclopedia of  World Aircraft-Barnes and Noble
  • The First Aviators-Time-Life Books (Epic of Flight Series)
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