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As an instrument of war, focus of mass culture, and incubator of technology, powered flight is a defining element of contemporary Europe. Its rapid development was driven by the unique military advantages of aircraft in terms of power, performance, and versatility; its advances required huge long-term investment, making the industry heavily dependent on governments and politics. But aviation also provided the early twentieth century with some of its strongest metaphors of progress, as the architect Le Corbusier acknowledged, proclaiming the airplane "advance guard of the conquering armies of the New Age," capable of arousing "our energies and our faith" (p. 10).

While the Wright brothers' flights of 1903–1905 were American triumphs, the heritage of aviation was European. The word itself was created in 1863 by the French writer Gabriel de la Landelle, combining avis (Latin for bird) with action. The hot-air balloon (1783), parachute (1797), and airship (1852) all originated in France. The first man-carrying glider, designed by the Englishman George Cayley, flew in 1849. In 1877 the Italian Enrico Forlanini successfully demonstrated a steam-engined model helicopter. The German Otto Lilienthal made almost twenty-five hundred glider flights, crashing to death in 1896 as he was beginning to experiment with powered aircraft. The Brazilian Alberto Santos Dumont eventually made the first powered flight in Europe on 23 October 1906. Within three years, Louis Blériot would fly across the English Channel.

The airplane exceeded two hundred kilometers per hour in 1913, embodying the revolution of speed and influencing art in its every form, from the more sophisticated works to posters destined for popular consumption. In turn, art created the cultural codes of flight, defining enduring interpretive categories. Airplanes were prominent features of avant-garde movements. From 1909 onward, the futurist movement announced its plan to replace museums, women, and the past with speed, war, and machines. Aircraft offered a new viewpoint: not just height, already provided by towers, hilltops, and balloons, but speed. A series of aggressive manifestos theorized its incorporation into everything from theater to poetry to painting. Futurism proposed the use of engines as musical instruments, and the soundtrack of Filippo Masoero's film Vertigine (1932) consisted entirely of engine roar. The futurist impact on visual arts would soon be seen, in less radical ways, in popular graphics and advertising but also in the identification of airplanes with technology. This reversed the earlier approach of legitimizing aviation by borrowing established and reassuring imagery.

In 1910 Elise Deroche became the world's first licensed woman pilot, and two years later Melli Beese established a flying school in Germany. Despite this, and the gradual removal of cultural and legal barriers, aviation has remained, with few exceptions, a largely male affair.


The European contribution to aviation included transforming it from sport to weapon. In 1910 the French general Pierre-Auguste Roques foresaw that armies would need airplanes as much as cannon and rifles, and warned that those who refused to accept the fact consciously risked having it forced upon them against their will. Giulio Douhet, the Italian officer and theorist, wrote that fighting in the air had become "inevitable" at the very moment that mankind had learned to fly. The 1911 Turkish-Italian war saw Captain Carlo M. Piazza make the world's first heavier-than-air operational sortie, arguably the single most significant flight after the Wrights' of 17 December 1903.

In 1914 European powers fielded just a few hundred aircraft. World War I provided the demand for an aviation industry. Britain alone accounted for about one-third of the 172,000 aircraft built in Europe, with Germany and France closely behind. The breakneck expansion strained capabilities and resources, sometimes compounded by quality control problems. The unarmed and largely similar wooden-truss, fabric-covered biplanes soon became differentiated by role and performance. In 1915 the Italians deployed the world's first heavy bombers, conceived by Gianni Caproni. Metal construction, supercharged engines, and heavy armament were some of the advanced features introduced by the end of the war.

The conflict also shaped the views of the relationship between man and machine. In the final scene of his 1910 novel Forse che sì, forse che no (Maybe yes, maybe no), Gabriele D'Annunzio described an old woman greeting a pilot who just completed a daring flight with the eloquent words "Son, there is no god if you are not the one." This superhuman status is arguably the archetype for the wartime myth of the pilot as modern-day knight engaged in chivalrous duels with similarly noble opponents. The identification was most visible in the emergence of the "ace," the informal title bestowed upon pilots who downed at least five enemy aircraft, exploited for its propaganda value to military, nationalist, and industrial purposes. Its spread was reinforced by the need for individual recognition and skill in a war of masses and industrial output. The names of the leading aces still enjoy greater popular recognition than their commanders in chief: Manfred von Richthofen, the socalled Red Baron, is better known than Erich Ludendorff, and Luigi Cadorna is eclipsed by Francesco Baracca, whose black prancing horse badge adorns Ferrari sports cars.

With their notoriety, aces distort the relative importance of the military applications of airpower. By 1918 aviation had become indispensable in tasks ranging from artillery spotting to antisubmarine patrols and from long-range reconnaissance to bombing. In most countries, short-range reconnaissance accounted for half or more and heavy bombers for less than one-tenth. Only in the British Royal Air Force (RAF) did fighters represent a majority of the frontline strength. The extensive German and Italian use of airships confirmed their vulnerability and unwieldiness. Although no battle was decided by airpower, the war led aviators to conclude that its full potential would only be exploited by entrusting its control to airmen. The RAF, the world's first air service independent from both army and navy, came into being on 1 April 1918. Its initial purpose was the improved defense of London against the German bomber offensive.

Aviators soon went beyond this, claiming that future wars would be decided by air attacks on enemy morale and resources. The main proponent of this doctrine was Douhet, who advocated massive bomber fleets to strike enemy population centers with chemical and incendiary weapons, arguing that the resulting shock would lead to rapid surrender and shorter wars, obviating the senseless carnage of the western front. (In fact, Douhet believed that the mere threat of such destruction would serve as deterrent.) It followed that air forces should be independent from surface forces and should receive funding priorities, an idea bitterly contested by armies and navies everywhere: in France their opposition delayed the creation of the Armée de l'Air until 1933, five years after the Air Ministry was created.

But airpower theory also ran contrary to immediate needs. The RAF proved its value by controlling internal conflict in Iraq. The Italian Regia Aeronautica, independent from 1923, was employed in tactical roles in the Ethiopian campaign (1935–1936) and Spanish civil war (1936–1939). Ironically, these undesired duties did much to make air forces acceptable to the other services. The German military never believed in strategic airpower, but the Luftwaffe successfully demonstrated its value at the operational level in Spain and in the 1939–1940 Blitzkrieg.


The Versailles treaty severely curtailed German flying, but throughout Europe the armistice challenged aviation to survive without huge military orders. Because abundant war-surplus aircraft, as cheap as they were obsolete, stifled technical development, spectacular sporting feats helped attract capital and promote "air mindedness" in the public. Charles Lindbergh's celebrated 1927 solo Atlantic crossing should not obscure the fact that by 1920 European aircraft and crews had already flown from Canada to Ireland, from Britain to South Africa and Australia, and from Italy to Japan. In 1926 the airship Norge overflew the North Pole.

In 1919 thirteen countries, nine of which were European, signed the first international air navigation convention, providing the framework for commercial services. Pilots and industrialists hoped that airlines would sustain aviation, but limited payload and performance made companies dependent on airmail subsidies.

An abundance of courage compensated for the lack of resources; achievements bordered on the legendary. Latécoère (later Aéropostale) inaugurated mail service from France to Algeria in 1919. Ten years later it reached Chile and in 1933 replaced ships with aircraft even on the transatlantic portions of the route. Among its pilots was Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, who drew upon the experience for his celebrated novels. To improve efficiency, in 1933 and 1934 France and Italy concentrated their subsidies into the government-owned flag carriers Air France and Ala Littoria.

All countries seized on the value of aviation to reinforce national identities and promote ideologies. Competitions quickly went beyond the means and goals of individual manufacturers. Massive state support for Schneider Cup seaplanes allowed speeds to climb from four to seven hundred kilometers per hour between 1926 and 1934; other records followed a similar pattern. This progress allowed professionalism to replace luck and talent as the key to success. To signal this change and spread the image of a country thrust into modernity by fascism, Italo Balbo, the Italian minister of aeronautics, led formation flights to Brasil (1930–1931) and the United States (1933). The Soviet Union formed a propaganda squadron, whose aircraft included the giant ANT-20, fitted with a cinema, printing press, photo lab, and powerful broadcasting equipment.

But government involvement in aviation, which frequently included nationalizing industries, was driven by more compelling reasons. By transferring its technologies to develop airlines and aircraft to the Soviet Union, Germany circumvented the Versailles restrictions. Aircraft exports furthered Benito Mussolini's attempt to erode British influence in the Middle East and American influence in China.

Amid mounting international tension, in 1935 Adolf Hitler announced the forming of the Luftwaffe and unleashed international rearmament programs. The simultaneous introduction of all-metal monoplanes with stressed-skin structures, variable-pitch propellers, and retractable landing gear endowed new designs with superior performance. The best aircraft of this period—like the Messerschmitt Bf 109 (first flown in 1935) and Supermarine Spitfire (1936)—would remain in production until 1945, albeit in much evolved variants. In 1937, the destruction of the airship Hindenburg, which burst into flames in New Jersey after a commercial flight from Germany, marked the decline of the dirigible.


The Luftwaffe's contribution to the crushing of Poland in September 1939 suggested the pivotal role that aviation would play in the new global conflict. Production expanded dramatically, and organizations grew correspondingly. Germany built close to 118,000 aircraft, and Britain almost 132,000. By 1945 the RAF numbered 1,000,000 men. Italian output was limited to about 12,000 aircraft, but even this required 160,000 air force personnel and as many industry workers.

For the first time, airpower decided the fate of nations. In summer 1940 Germany launched an air offensive designed to soften Britain before the cross-channel amphibious assault. The lonely and defenseless island was widely expected to follow the fate of France. But the RAF prevailed, through a mix of superior technology, superb leadership, and enemy targeting blunders; the invasion was first postponed and then canceled. The Battle of Britain instantly became a defining episode in British history, and the public perception that the country had been saved by Hurricanes and Spitfires still endures.

But the war also linked airplanes to mass destruction, tainting forever their image. Aviation lost its innocence at Guernica, the Basque town destroyed by the Germans in 1937 and immortalized in Pablo Picasso's famous painting. Then came Rotterdam, Coventry, Dresden, and innumerable cities consumed by aerial bombardment. At first, the bomber offensive was the only means available to Britain to strike back at Germany. Under Air Marshal Arthur Harris, commander in chief of Bomber Command, it later became an attempt to win the war single-handedly. With brutal pragmatism, his "area" or "saturation" targeting policy sidestepped the difficulty of pinpointing military or industrial targets at night. Precision daylight bombing was left to the Americans, whose approach was based on a detailed analysis of the German economy and its bottlenecks. Germany was laid waste by 1.5 million tons of bombs, but the anticipated knockout blow never came. The war of aerial attrition cost nearly a hundred thousand aircrew and sixteen thousand bombers and killed up to one million Germans, but its success remains hotly debated.

The war ushered in major advances, including pressurized cabins and gas turbine engines ("jets"). The latter were a peculiarly European affair, achieved separately in 1937 by Frank Whittle in Britain and Hans von Ohain in Germany. Inherently simple and efficient, jet engines brought dramatic performance improvements. Airborne radar signaled the start of the electronic era. Large-scale production allowed some measure of production engineering, conspicuously lacking from the piecemeal prewar purchases.


Chuck Yeager exceeded the speed of sound in 1947, sealing American dominance of the jet age. In Europe, only Britain had emerged from the war with an intact industry. Imperial delusions translated into a flawed postwar development plan, which failed to identify priorities for government support. The attitude was typified by the 1946 decision to build three different jet-engined nuclear bombers to the same requirement.

A flying ban was again imposed on Germany. Its industries lay in ruins but its advanced technologies pollinated the world. While Werner von Braun developed rockets in the United States, Willy Messerschmitt designed jet trainers and supersonic fighters in Spain, and a BMW team launched the French turbojet program. The Soviet Union also preyed on German talent, but its jet program only blossomed after the 1946 transfer of Rolls-Royce technologies by the ideologically motivated British Labour government.

If the Berlin blockade of 1948–1949 signaled the beginning of the Cold War, the ensuing Anglo-American airlift proved the political value of "soft" airpower applications. It also led to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and provided the stimulus to rebuild the aviation industry. It soon was clear that it would be difficult to compete with American technology, particularly when supported by generous financial terms and "off-shore procurement" work. But governments could still choose between supporting aviation mainly for its technological benefits, as in France, or to protect employment, as in Italy. Small countries like Sweden produced remarkable aircraft by asking industry to underpin their neutrality.

Wartime progress and experience allowed airlines to offer reliable transatlantic service. European air transport prospered on regulation as much as anything else. Bilateral agreements invariably assigned traffic rights to national carriers, whose commercial practices often included sharing route profits.

The ban lifted, West Germany joined NATO in 1955. Three years later its selection of the American nuclear-capable F-104G Starfighter triggered the largest international aviation program attempted until then. The fifteen hundred fighter-bombers built in Europe paved the way for continental aerospace collaboration.

In 1961 Britain flew the revolutionary P.1127 vertical takeoff jet, later developed into the Harrier, whose commercial success extended to the United States, but the 1965 cancellation of the TSR.2 attack jet signaled the end of British ambitions of independence and quickly multiplied European collaborative programs. In 1967 Britain launched four military programs with France. It then joined with Germany and Italy to develop the Tornado strike aircraft (1974). Its success, expensive as it was, was demonstrated in the 1991 Gulf War and led to the very ambitious Eurofighter (1994). The program now included Spain, while France elected to proceed alone with the broadly similar Dassault Rafale.

While these programs were generally successful, only Germany and France had a long-term strategy to overcome industry fragmentation and build global competitors in terms of technologies, finances, and size. With political support, the vision of industrialists such as Ludwig Bölkow and Henri Ziegler became Airbus, established in 1970 by the French and German governments. Previous European challenges had produced remarkable jetliners—including the De Havilland Comet (1949) and Sud-Est Caravelle (1955)—and equally significant losses. The Anglo-French Concorde epitomized the "magnificent loser" category: the twenty supersonic transports built showed an operating profit only after the governments wrote off their development and production costs. Airbus, later joined by Britain and Spain, reversed the pattern and eventually became the world's foremost airliner manufacturer, ahead of Boeing. The giant A380 airliner challenged the Boeing 747 on symbolic rather than business grounds. By 2003 Airbus was proclaimed an icon of European unity as great as its common currency, its success being attributed to peculiarly European values and approaches.

The 1977 launch of Freddie Laker's no-reservation, no-frills transatlantic service was a rare challenge, immediately countered by British Airways with strongly anticompetitive measures. When the European Union (EU) undertook to deregulate air transport in the 1990s, it shook the long complacent industry. The new market emphasis bankrupted airlines like Sabena (the Belgian flag carrier that had never turned a profit since its founding in 1923), Swissair, and Olympic. The spread of low-fare air travel quickly stripped the industry of any lingering jet-set mentality. Ryanair, the Irish no-frills airline, asked the EU to exempt its buslike service from expensive airline regulations, including those designed to protect consumers. It lost, but its argument confirmed the new image of mass air transport.


In the 1960s aviation ran out of performance milestones. The frontier moved outside the atmosphere, beyond human gaze (and, largely, interest), in a space contested by the American and Soviet superpowers. Unable to compete individually, early in the decade five European countries joined in the European Launcher Development Organization (ELDO) and European Space Research Organization (ESRO) programs, sowing the seeds of the European Space Agency (1975), whose story lies outside the scope of this entry.

Upon realizing the pioneers' dreams, aviation exchanged heroics for a business approach. Development took less glamorous avenues: safety, affordability, professionalism, capabilities, and even environmental impact. Innovative composite materials made possible exceptional airframe weight reductions, but are hardly exciting. Ubiquitous electronics, now the main part of aircraft cost, turned aircraft into "platforms" for "systems." Automated flight—met with universal skepticism when prophesied by Duncan Sandys, the British minister of defense, in his much maligned 1957 White Paper—is now reality, depressing what romanticism remained.

When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, industry was belatedly forced to reduce chronic overcapacity. Despite a trend to privatize, this reinforced its dependence on political decisions, making "Buy European" an unwritten requirement for EU membership, or even application. In 2000 the French and German governments merged their aviation industries, including Airbus, in the giant European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS). To balance the Paris-Berlin directorate, Britain and Italy drew closer and allied with American industry. The strategy bore fruit in AgustaWestland, now the world's leading helicopter manufacturer, selected in January 2005 to supply the American presidential transport helicopter.

When Europe celebrated the Wrights' centennial, aviation had cut travel time, shrunk the world, modified individual lifestyles, cross-contaminated cultures, and made globalization possible. The price for such impressive success and universal acceptance was the loss of its age-old appeal.

See alsoAutomobiles; Blitzkreig; Britain, Battle of; Futurism; Guernica; Public Transport; Technology; Warfare.


Primary Sources

Douhet, Giulio. The Command of the Air. Translated by Dino Ferrari. 1942. Reprint, Washington, D.C., 1983. Translation of Il dominio dell'aria.

Le Corbusier. Aircraft. London, 1935.

Saint-Exupéry, Antoine de. "Southern Mail" and "Night Flight." Translated by Curtis Cate. London, 1971. Translation of Courrier du sud and Vol de nuit.

Secondary Sources

Chadeau, Emmanuel. L'industrie aéronautique en France, 1900–1950. Paris, 1987.

Christienne, Charles, and Pierre Lissarrague. A History of French Military Aviation. Translated by Frances Kianka. Washington, D.C., 1986.

Corum, James S. The Luftwaffe: Creating the Operational Air War, 1918–1940. Lawrence, Kans., 1997.

Davies, R. E. G. A History of the World's Airlines. London, 1964.

Fritzsche , Peter. A Nation of Fliers: German Aviation and the Popular Imagination. Cambridge, Mass., 1992.

King, Peter. Knights of the Air. London, 1989.

Morrow, John H., Jr. The Great War in the Air. Washington, D.C., 1993.

Overy, R. J. The Air War, 1939–1945. New York, 1980.

Wohl, Robert. A Passion for Wings: Aviation and the Western Imagination, 1908–1914. New Haven, Conn., 1994.

Gregory Alegi


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Beginning in 1910, Latin American, European, and U.S. aviators in small but growing numbers pioneered airplane flights in Latin America. In aviation's early barnstorming and aerial pathfinding phase, flying in Latin America was characterized by several factors that were natural consequences of the times: the relatively few Latin American aviators came from wealthy families, such as the Brazilian Alberto Santos-Dumont, who in 1906 made the first airplane flight in Europe; and most planes were imported from Europe or the United States—the latter factor would persist indefinitely. As elsewhere, fatal accidents often occurred in the flimsy and underpowered planes of aviation's infancy.

Mexico was the site of several milestones in military aviation. Early in 1911 the regime of Porfirio Díaz, faced with spreading revolution, hired two French barnstormers to fly reconnaissance over rebel forces, the first known combat sorties of an airplane anywhere. As most factions in the revolution came to possess small numbers of planes, almost every facet of aerial warfare, if in microcosm and isolation, was recorded either preceding or concurrent with developments in World War I in Europe—besides reconnaissance, air-to-air combat, tactical air support, and the bombing of population centers occurred. Two noteworthy events occurred in 1914: a Constitutional plane piloted by Gustavo Salinas Carmiña scored a near miss on a Huertista warship off the west coast and U.S. Navy planes flew reconnaissance over Veracruz in the first use of aviation in a U.S. intervention.

In 1915 the Constitutionalists formed what was later the Fuerza Aérea Mexicana; it was soon conducting training, and manufactured a respectable number of airplanes of its own design after World War I restricted foreign supply. Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Cuba, and Uruguay created military air arms before or during World War I.

From 1919 on, most Latin American countries developed air arms with the aid of foreign military missions. They were equipped mainly with hand-me-downs from Europe and the United States, and their operations were for the most part noncombat: training, surveying, security watch. Like their army and naval counterparts, air officers sometimes engaged in volatile politics, a notable example being Marmaduke Grove, who was briefly head of state in Chile in 1931. Periodically Latin American air arms engaged in aerial warfare after 1919; leading examples were operations of the air arms of both Bolivia and Paraguay in the Chaco War (1932–1935); operations of U.S.-equipped fighter squadrons from Mexico in the Philippines and from Brazil in Italy in World War II; and the gallant but doomed fight of the Argentine air force against the British in the South Atlantic War of 1982. Helicopters and strike aircraft hunted guerrillas in the 1970s and 1980s.

Nonexistent until 1919, civil air transport in Latin America stemmed from the failure of surface transportation to blanket an often difficult and diverse geography. It was spurred by an international rivalry with martial implications and was fostered by nationalism.

The international rivalry pitted three non-Latin American groups against one another: Germans, who created airlines in South America, most notably Sociedad Colombo-Alemana de Transportes Aéreos (SCADTA), in Colombia in December 1919, the first lasting airline in the region; U.S. officials, fearing the implied threat to the Panama Canal, and private interests, recognizing a most fertile field for air transport, the latter launching Pan American Airways (1927), which with unprecedented government aid monopolized all U.S. international airline business until World War II; and French private interests, whose heavily subsidized airline Aéropostale developed the world's longest route system, including routes in much of South America, by 1930. The rivalry featured three of the great pioneers in air transport history—Juan Terry Trippe of Pan American; Peter Paul von Bauer of SCADTA in Colombia; and French-born Marcel Boulloux-Lafont, who resided in South America. In the end, von Bauer secretly sold controlling interest in Depression-weakened SCADTA to Trippe (1931), and Boulloux-Lafont lost Aéropostale when the French government forced it into bankruptcy in 1931 by withdrawing its subsidy.

During World War II, the Germans lost their airlines when Latin American countries, under pressure from the United States, nationalized all German enterprises.

Lines both domestic and international multiplied in the 1930s, some fading as others took to the sky. It was increasingly clear that air transport filled special needs in a region struggling to modernize, but also clear that airlines helped maintain the dependency imbalance. One line, Compañía Mexicana de Aviación (CMA), will serve to illustrate. It was founded in 1924 by U.S. entrepreneurs to fly payrolls to oil fields. With the help of some well-connected Mexicans, CMA added routes and diverse cargo. In 1929 it became a Pan American subsidiary in Mexican guise in order to carry PAA mail and cargo, something foreign lines could not do under Mexican law. CMA became truly Mexican after World War II, in a general trend to divest lines based in Latin America of foreign control, even though these lines still depended on outsiders for equipment such as the jets they began to acquire in the 1960s.

A number of Latin American air forces became involved in air transport. In 1929 Línea Aeropostal Santiago-Arica (later Línea Aérea Nacional, LAN) was founded by Comandante Arturo Merino Benítez as a division of the Chilean air force to carry mail and passengers, in part to counter the presence of PAN-AGRA, the jointly owned subsidiary of Pan American and the U.S. conglomerate W. R. Grace. It soon became a civil line, and ultimately the major Chilean domestic and international carrier. Other air forces, for example, Argentina's, developed transport divisions to serve sparsely settled areas, such as that from the Pampas to the Chilean border, that would not be profitable for a private-sector airline. Another dimension of Latin American air transport is that it is no longer the preserve of the well-to-do. After World War II it began to be more available to the less affluent with the rise of low-fare airlines.

Deregulation of the airline industries in the 1990s helped make air travel even more accessible to the general population. When governments lifted restrictions on prices and allowed full competition, ticket prices dropped dramatically. Lower fares helped more people to fly but also caused strains in the air infrastructure of many countries. Brazil suffered two of its worst airline disasters in 2007, and many experts believed that old equipment, an understaffed air traffic control system and crowded airports contributed to these crashes.

Other Latin American nations privatized their national airlines in the early 1990s to pay off large public debts. A mix of national and international investors bought the firms, with mixed results. LAN, Chile's former state-run airline, was bought by the Scandinavian Airlines System (SAS) and successfully expanded into other regions of Latin America. For instance, by 2005 LAN took over Ecuador's former state-run airline Ecuatoriana, which had fallen into bankruptcy after its sale to the Brazilian airline VASP in 1995. In 1990 Iberia, a Spanish airline company, purchased Aerolineas Argentinas, which fell into bankruptcy in 2001. Also, many analysts believe the privatization was corrupt, believing that Argentine officials received kickbacks from Iberia. Despite these problems, Aerolineas Argentinas emerged from bankruptcy, and as of 2007 another Spanish firm, Vieja Marsans, operates it. The Bolivian airline Lloyd Aereo Boliviano collapsed as a private company; VASP bought a controlling interest in 1995, but by the early twenty-first century both VASP and Lloyd Aereo Boliviano encountered financial difficulties. Bolivian investors took over VASP's share but the airline ended service in 2007. Thus, privatization and deregulation have brought, at times, more competition, but also disruption to service.


Significant works covering one or more aspects of aviation in Latin America are Wesley Phillips Newton, The Perilous Sky: U.S. Aviation Diplomacy and Latin America, 1919–1931 (1978).

Marylin Bender and Selig Altschul, The Chosen Instrument: Juan Trippe, Pan Am, the Rise and Fall of an American Entrepreneur (1982).

R. E. G. Davies, Airlines of Latin America Since 1919 (1984).

One of the best reference works dealing with the world's air forces (including those of Latin America), their histories, and their relative statuses is Mark Hamish et al., Air Forces of the World: Illustrated Directory of the World's Military Air Powers (1979). The British periodical Air International has monthly updates on both military and civil aviation around the world.

Many Latin American countries have produced their own historical literature on their aviation. Those on Mexico include José Villela Gómez, Breve historia de la aviación en México (1971).

Enrique Sandoval C., Historia oficial de la fuerza expedicio-naria mexicana (1946), on the Mexican fighter squadron in the Philippines.

Additional Bibliography

Magnusson, Michael. Latin Glory: Airlines of Latin America. Osceola, WI: Motorbooks International, 1995.

Potenze, Pablo Luciano. Historia del transporte aerocomercial. Buenos Aires: Universidad Argentina de la Empresa, 1997.

                                 Wesley Phillips Newton


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The Wright Brothers —Wilbur (1867–1912) and Orville (1871–1948)—were the first men to successfully fly an airplane. They did it in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina , on December 17, 1903. They flew 120 feet (37 meters) in twelve seconds. The brief flight was the result of years of experimentation, research, and sheer determination. And it was the dawn of mechanical flight.

Before the Wright brothers took to the air in their powered airplane, the only means of air transportation was the hot air balloon. The first human flight in a balloon took place in Paris, France, in 1783. Ballooning became a favorite pastime in Europe in the late eighteenth century, but those balloons were not steerable, so passengers were at the mercy of the weather and wind. Gliders followed, and then the Wright brothers made their famous first airplane flight. They used the research and experiments of their predecessors to build the first aircraft that could sustain flight.

Military aviation

Airplanes proved a major asset in time of war. Bulgaria was the first country to use airplanes for military service, in the First Balkan War (1912–13). Both sides fighting in World War I (1914–18) relied heavily upon airplanes as weapons. In 1914, the French attached a machine gun to the front of one of their planes, thus allowing aircraft to shoot at one another. Pilots of such planes were known as aces, and they were publicized as modern-day knights. One German ace, Manfred von Richthofen (1892–1918), became known as the Red Baron. He shot down eighty planes in air-to-air combat.

Technological advancements led to improved aircraft for use in World War II (1939–45). This era of advancements is known as the Golden Age, and it was during this time that Amelia Earhart (1897–1937) became the first woman aviator to cross the Atlantic Ocean on a solo flight. The zeppelin, a hydrogen-filled airship, named Hindenburg crashed and burned in New Jersey in 1937, killing thirty-five people and bringing an end to the airship.

One of the most impressive achievements of the Golden Age was the development of instrument flight, for which aviator Jimmy Doolittle (1896–1993) is credited. He was the first pilot to use nothing but instruments to guide him in taking off, flying, and landing. Prior to that, aviators relied on sight.

Aircraft production increased during World War II, and a German aviator flew the first jet plane in 1939. Germany also led the way in developing the first cruise missile, ballistic missile, and manned rocket. By the end of the war, America had produced more than 160,000 aircraft of various types.

Commercial aviation

Once World War II ended, military aircraft were used to transport people and goods. Soon many airlines were established, with routes that crossed North America and other continents. The first American airliner took to the skies in 1949. In 1956, the Boeing 707 was introduced, raising the level of comfort, speed, and safety. As passengers began to consider flying as commonplace as driving a car, the military continued making progress in aviation technology. The sound barrier was broken in October 1947, and soon the space race was in full swing as America and the Soviet Union competed to be the leader in space exploration.

The space race resulted in the first men landing on the moon. American astronauts Neil Armstrong (1930–) and Buzz Aldrin (1930–) made their lunar landing in 1969, the same year Boeing announced its 747, the largest aircraft ever to fly. Even in the first decade of the twenty-first century, the 747 is one of the largest planes, and it transports millions of passengers each year.

Britain unveiled the first supersonic passenger airplane in 1976. The Concorde remained in service for twenty-seven years before it was retired. It remains an icon of success for the aviation industry.

Modern aviation

The Federal Aviation Act was passed in 1958, thereby establishing the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The major roles of the FAA include regulating U.S. commercial space transportation and civil aviation, promoting safety, and encouraging new aviation technology. One of the FAA's first tasks was to develop an air traffic control system to prevent in-air collisions.

The industry was deregulated throughout the 1980s, which resulted in an influx of smaller airlines and the merging of larger airlines. In order to compete, airlines dropped their ticket prices in the 1990s as the number of cities served increased.

After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks , airline security became top priority as regulations were tightened and strict airport security procedures were implemented.


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Defined as the science and practice of powered, heavier-than-air flight, aviation made its first great strides in the early twentieth century, after decades of flights in lighter-than-air gliders and balloons had been achieved in several countries. As acknowledged in reference books worldwide, including those of Soviet Russia, the first successful flight of an airplane was performed one hundred years ago by Orville and Wilbur Wright on December 17,1903. Throughout the nineteenth century, however, designers and engineers in many countries were working on plans for powered human flight.

In Russia, Sergi Alexeyevich Chaplygin (18691942) and Nikolai Yegorovich Zhukovsky (18471921) made major contributions in their study of aerodynamics, founding a world-famous school in St. Petersburg, Russia. In 1881, Alexander Fyodorovich Mozhaisky (18231890) received a patent for a propeller-driven, table-shaped airplane powered by a steam engine, which crashed on takeoff in 1885. From 1909 to 1914, however, Russia made significant strides in airplane design. Progress included several successful test flights of innovative aircraft. For instance, the Russian aircraft designer Yakov M. Gakkel (18741945) achieved worldwide attention among aviation experts for developing a single-seat, motor-powered biplane that attracted world attention among aviation experts. In 1910, Boris N. Yuriev (18891957) designed one of the world's first helicopters, which were known in aviation's earlier days as autogyros.

A major breakthrough in world aviation occurred in 1913, with the development of the four-motored heavy Russian aircraft, the Ilya Muromets. This huge airplane far outstripped all other planes of its time for its size, range, and load-carrying capability. Russian ice- and hydroplane development was also outstanding in the years 1915 and 1916. One of the world famous Russian aircraft designers of this period, and the one who built the Muromets, was Igor Ivanovich Sikorsky (18891972), who emigrated to the United States in 1919 and established a well-known aircraft factory there in 1923.

Before and during World War I, Russian military aircraft technical schools and aviation clubs blossomed. In the war, the Russians deployed thirty-nine air squadrons totaling 263 aircraft, all bearing a distinctive circular white, blue, and red insignia on their wings. With the coming to power of the Communists in late 1917, Lenin and Stalin, who stressed the importance of military production and an offensive strategy, strongly supported the development of the Red Air Force. Civilian planes, too, were built, for what became the world's largest airline, Aeroflot.

By the time of World War II, the Soviets had made significant strides in the development of all types of military aircraft, including fighters and bombers, gliders and transport planes, for both the Red Army and Red Navy. By the time of the German invasion of the USSR in June 1941, various types of Soviet aircraft possessed equal or superior specifications compared to the planes available to their Nazi German counterparts. This achievement was possible not only because of the long, pre-revolutionary Russian and postrevolutionary Soviet experience in designing and building aircraft and participating in international air shows. Progress in this field also stemmed from Soviet strategic planning, which called for offensive airground support in land battle.

During World War II, such aircraft as the Shturmoviks, Ilyushins, and Polikarpovs became world famous in the war, as did a number of male and female Soviet war aces. With the coming of jet-powered and supersonic aircraft in the 1950s and beyond, the Soviets continued their quest for air supremacy, and again showed their prowess in aviation.

See also: science and technology policy; world war i; world war ii

Albert L. Weeks


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31. Aviation

an instrument for measuring and recording the rate of acceleration of an aircraft.
a person who performs aerial acrobatics, as a trapeze artist, tightrope walker, stunt flier, etc.
the science of ballistics combined with or from the special viewpoint of aerodynamics, particularly with regard to rockets, guided missiles, etc. aeroballistic, adj.
stunts performed with aircraft. See also 2. ACROBATICS .
the process of mapmaking by means of aerial survey.
Rare. the science or art of gliding. aerodonetic, adj.
aerodrome, airdrome
an airport or airbase, not including the personnel.
the art or science of flying airplanes.
Medicine. a condition caused by the formation of nitrogen bubbles in the blood as a result of a sudden lowering of atmospheric pressure, as when flying at high altitude or rising too rapidly from a deep underwater dive.
the medical specialty concerned with the health of those engaged in flying within the earths atmosphere.
1. Archaic. the science or art of ascending and traveling in the air in lighter-than-air vehicles.
2. the technology or art of flying airplanes. aeronaut, n. aeronautic, aeronautical, adj.
the technique of ballooning. aeronautics, n.
the region in the upper part of the earths atmosphere where the air is too thin for aircraft to operate properly.
an instrument for detecting the approach of aircraft by intensifying the sound waves it creates in the air.
the branch of physics that studies the earths atmosphere, especially the effects upon the atmosphere of objects flying at high speeds or at high altitudes. aerophysicist, n.
an aviator or aircraft pilot.
the study of the construction and operation of aerostats, lighter-than-air craft, as balloons or dirigibles. aerostatic, aerostatical , adj.
the science of aerial navigation.
the science and technology of electrical and electronic devices or equipment used in aviation.
the art and science of operating balloons for sport or air travel. Also balloonry .
the science that studies the effects of space travel on life, especially human life and the human body.
omithopter, orthopter
da Vincis exploratory design for a flying machine moved by flapping wings.
the science and art of space flying. perastadic, adj.
reconnaissance for purposes of aerial photography; reconnaissance or surveillance by means of aerial photography.
an acronym for RAdio Detecting And Ranging: a method and the equipment used for the detection and determination of the velocity of a moving object by reflecting radio waves off it.
the science and technology of rocket design and manufacture.
applied to aircraft moving at speeds beyond the speed of sound, about 750 mph (1207.5 kph) at sea level.
flight, the act of flying, or the ability to fly.


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51. Aviation

  1. Kitty Hawk site of first manned, powered flight (1903). [Am. Hist.: Jameson, 563]
  2. Lafayette Escadrille American aviators assisting Allies in WWI. [Am. Hist.: Jameson, 273]
  3. Night Flight relates the harrowing experiences of early airmail pilots on South American routes. [Fr. Lit.: Magill III, 687]
  4. Red Baron nickname given to Baron Richthofen. [Aviation: EB, VIII: 574]
  5. Smilin Jack comic strip pilot who solves crimes. [Comics: Smilin Jack in Horn, 624625]
  6. Spirit of St. Louis Charles Lindberghs plane. [Am. Hist.: Jameson, 287]
  7. Wright brothers creators-aviators of first manned aircraft (1903). [Am. Hist.: Jameson, 563]


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a·vi·a·tion / ˌāvēˈāshən/ • n. the flying or operating of aircraft: [as adj.] the aviation industry aviation engineering.


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aviation XIX. — F., irreg. f. L. avis bird + -ATION.
So aviator XIX. — F. aviateur.

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