Since the beginning of time, man has been inspired by the flight of birds, and has aspired to join them in the skies. It was this desire that culminated in the modern aircraft. Leonardo da Vinci was the first person to develop a serious design for an aircraft. He drew up plans for a glider in the 15th century, but it was never built. There were several early attempts to fly, and there were many claims and counter-claims as to how successful these were. Aviation experts and collectors specially cherish these early aircraft models because of their historical significance. Of course, they will be well-served by what is available at ModelPlanes.com
World War I
|Piloted Heavier-than-Air Powered Flights|
The Wright Brothers, Orville and Wilbur Wright, are generally credited with the design and construction of the first practical airplane, and making the first controllable, powered heavier-than-air flight along with many other aviation milestones. The Wright Brothers first became interested in flight after they began reading of Lilienthal's gliding flights in Germany. Aided by their bicycle mechanic Charlie Taylor, they built an engine that produced 12 horsepower. Using this basic airframe of their 1902 Glider, the Kitty Hawk Flyer was born.
On Dec. 17, 1903, the Wrights made the first controlled powered heavier-than-air flight at Kitty Hawk, N.C.
Almost as soon as they were invented, planes were drafted for military service. The first country to use planes for military purposes was Bulgaria, whose planes attacked Ottoman positions during the First Balkan War in1912-13. The first war to see major use of planes in offensive, defensive, and reconnaissance capabilities was World War I. The Allies and Central Powers both used planes extensively. The most famous plane of that war is the Sopwith Camel; it was credited with more aerial victories than any other Allied plane, but was also notorious for its awkward handling, resulting in the death of many rookie pilots. Several pilots became famous for their air-to-air combats. The most well-known today is Manfred von Richthofen. Nicknamed the Red Baron, he shot down over 80 planes in air-to-air combat while piloting several different planes, the most celebrated of which was the Fokker Red Baron Triplane. His record of air-to-air kills still stands today. On the Allied side, Rene' Paul Fonck is credited with the most victories. These famous World War I aircraft and others from the era are here at ModelPlanes.com.
1920s - 1940s
Besides a great deal of advancement in aviation, this period saw the birth of legends like Charles Lindberg and Amelia Earhart. Their names represent this era's constant quest to achieve what was then considered unachievable. No wonder this period is a golden age for model aircraft
collectors and enthusiasts.
The years between World War I and World War II saw a large advancement in aircraft technology. Airplanes went from being constructed of mostly wood and canvas to being constructed almost entirely of aluminum. Engine development proceeded, with engines moving from in-line water-cooled gasoline engines to rotary air-cooled engines, with a commensurate increase in propulsive power.
|Famous Aviation Records|
Pushing all of this forward were a series of prizes for various distance and speed records. If you enjoy collecting models of aircraft made famous by their records, you will not be disappointed here. Charles Lindbergh took the Orteig Prize of $25,000 for his solo non-stop crossing of the Atlantic, the first person to achieve this. We carry a stunningly realistic model of Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis.
After WW I many experienced fighter pilots were eager to show off their new skills. Thus, a series of air shows sprang up around the country, with air races, acrobatic stunts, and feats of jaw-dropping maneuvers being the main attraction. Amelia Earhart was perhaps the most famous of those on the air show circuit. She was also the first female pilot to achieve many records such as crossing of the Atlantic and the English Channel. Models of the legendary planes of these barnstormers are here, too.
On the lighter-than-air front, the first crossings of the Atlantic were made by airship in July 1919 by His Majesty's Airship R34 when it flew from East Lothian, Scotland, to Long Island, N.Y., and then back to Pulham, England. By 1929, airship technology had advanced to the point that the first round-the-world flight was completed by the Graf Zeppelin
in September and in October, the same aircraft inaugurated the first commercial transatlantic service. ModelPlanes.com carries two impressive models of the Hindenburg - one nearly 5 feet long.
In the 1930s, development of the jet engine began in Germany and England. In England, Frank Whittle patented a design for a jet engine in 1930 and began developing a workable engine toward the end of the decade. In Germany Hans von Ohain patented his version of a jet engine in 1936 and began developing a working prototype. The two men were unaware of each other's work, and both Germany and Britain had developed jet aircraft
by the end of World War II.
1940s - 1960s
This era was a defining period in commercial aviation. It saw the development and introduction of the jet engine, which ushered in the "jet age." Commercial flying on a mass scale became a reality, thanks to Boeing
, which burst onto the scene with its 707. It was the turning point of commercial aviation. Model airplane collectors and enthusiasts cherish these early pioneers of commercial air travel. You can find models of these early commercial aircraft here.
Commercial aviation really took hold after World War II, using mostly ex-military aircraft in the business of transporting people and goods. Within a few years, many airline companies existed with routes that covered North America, Europe, and other parts of the world. This was accelerated due to the glut of heavy and super-heavy bomber airframes like the B-29 and Lancaster that could easily be converted into commercial aircraft. The DC-3 also made for easier and longer commercial flights. By 1952, the British state airline British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) introduced into service the first jet airliner, the De Havilland Comet. While a technical achievement, the Comet suffered a series of highly public failures, as the shape of the windows led to cracks due to metal fatigue. This caused catastrophic failure of the plane's fuselage. By the time the problems were overcome, other jet airliner designs had already taken to the skies, including the Boeing 707, which established new levels of comfort, safety, and passenger expectations. The 707 ushered in the age of mass commercial air travel as we enjoy it today.
Even with the end of World War II, there was still a need for advancement in airplane and rocket technology. Not long after the war ended, in October of 1947, Chuck Yeager took the rocket-powered Bell X-1 past the speed of sound. Although anecdotal evidence exists that some fighter pilots may have done so while dive-bombing ground targets during the war, this is the first controlled, level flight to cross the sound barrier. Further barriers of distance were eliminated in 1948 and 1952 as the first jet crossing of the Atlantic and first nonstop flight to Australia occurred, respectively.
1960s - 1980s
In 1961, the sky was literally no longer the limit for manned flight, as Yuri Gagarin orbited once around the planet within 108 minutes. This action further heated up the space race that had started in 1957 with the launch of Sputnik I by the Soviet Union. The United States responded by launching Alan Shepard into space on a suborbital flight in a Mercury space capsule. The space race would ultimately lead to the current pinnacle of human flight, the landing of men on the moon in 1969.
Space was the new frontier that man had been trying to conquer for a long time. This became a reality when the first satellite was launched and, more so, when United States astronauts were flying crafts into space during the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions. The Apollo missions were the testing grounds for the Saturn V Rocket and the lunar orbiting modules.
The space race between Russia and the United States culminated when Apollo 11 first landed on the moon, carrything three U.S. astronauts. This was indeed "a giant leap for mankind," and the excitement and euphoria it generated remains unsurpassed today. Thus, this period holds a special place in the hearts of all aviation enthusiasts. ModelPlanes.com has procured space craft models that reflect major developments in this era of flight.
Reaching the moon may have been the pinnacle of flight in the 20th century, but this historic achievement in space was not the only progress made in aviation at this time. In 1967, the X-15 set the air speed record for an airplane at 4,534 mph or Mach 6.1 (7,297 km/h). Aside from vehicles designed to fly in outer space, this record still stands as the air speed record for powered flight.
The same year that Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin set foot on the moon, 1969, Boeing came out with its vision for the future of air travel, unveiling the Boeing 747 for the first time. This plane is still one of the largest aircraft ever to fly, and it carries millions of passengers each year. Commercial aviation progressed even further in 1976, as British Airways inaugurated supersonic service across the Atlantic, courtesy of the Boeing SST. A few years earlier the SR-71 Blackbird
had set the record for crossing the Atlantic in under two hours. The Concorde
followed in its footsteps, carrying passengers between Europe and the Americas in under seven hours.
The last quarter of the 20th century saw a slowing of the pace of advancement seen in the first three quarters of the century. No longer was revolutionary progress made in flight speeds or distances. This part of the century saw the steady improvement of flight avionics, and a few minor milestones in flight progress. A notable exception to this was the first flight of a reusable manned spacecraft, popularly known as the Space Shuttle. Launched on April 12, 1981, the Space Shuttle Columbia lifted off with the aid of three large booster rockets. It safely landed on April 14, 1981. ModelPlanes.com offers several Space Shuttle models
1980s - Present
In 1986 Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager flew an airplane around the world un-refueled, and without landing. In 1999 Bertrand Piccard became the first person to circle the earth in a balloon. By the end of the 20th century there were no major or minor accomplishments left to be made in subsonic aviation. Focus was turning to the ultimate conquest of space and flight at faster than the speed of sound.
Development in aviation had almost reached its peak. Even as attempts to make commercial aircraft bigger, faster, and fuel-efficient continued, the emphasis was shifting more toward mastering space technology. The Gulf War demonstrated the heights of sophistication achieved by the modern military aircraft
. Model aircraft of this period are sought after by aviation enthusiasts for their hi-tech features and sleek look. We have an impressive selection of modern-era defense planes and aircraft that push the edge of technology.
In the beginning of the 21st century, subsonic aviation focused on eliminating the pilot in favor of remotely operated or completely autonomous vehicles. Several unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, have been developed. In April 2001, the unmanned aircraft Global Hawk flew from Edwards AFB in the U.S. to Australia non-stop with no mid-air refueling. This is the longest point-to-point flight ever undertaken by an unmanned aircraft, and took 23 hours and 23 minutes. In October 2003, the first totally autonomous flight across the Atlantic by a computer-controlled model aircraft occurred.
In commercial aviation, the early 21st century saw the end of an era with the retirement of the Concorde. Supersonic flight was not very commercial, as speedy transatlantic passage was not worth the hefty price tag. The Concorde also was not fuel-efficient and could carry only a limited amount of passengers due to its highly streamlined design.
Despite this setback, it is generally agreed that the 21st century will be a bright one for aviation. Planes and rockets offer unique capabilities in terms of speed and carrying capacity that cannot be underestimated. In fact, concerted efforts are underway for the commercialization of space flight. In 2004, a $10 million prize was awarded to the crew of SpaceShipOne, as it successfully flew into sub-orbital space for a second time within a span of five days. This by far cleared the rules of the contest, which outlined achieving sub-orbital space twice withn two weeks. Claiming the Ansari X prize was SpaceShipOne's owner Paul Allen, developer Burt Rutan, and pilot Brian Binnie.
A new contest, dubbed America's Space Prize, is being developed by Nevada millionaire Robert Bigelow. It offers a $50 million prize to the first privately funded craft and crew to attain orbital flight and dock with an orbiting outpost. Bigelow is putting up half of the prize himself.
As long as there is a need for people to get places quickly, there will be a need for aviation. And, it appears, the gravity of the Earth will no longer be an obstacle in the future.