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The Whole Story

National Geographic (December 1953), 721-39.



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Page 1

Celebrating a Year of Jubilee

Speeds and Loads Vastly Increased


Page 2
Air Travel Sets Records

Airlines Plan a New Era

Page 3
Jet Debut Expected Soon

Flying by Robot Control



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Aviation Looks Ahead on Its 50th Birthday
By Vice Admiral Emory S. Land, USN (Ret.)

Fifty Years of Flight Story
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Photograph courtesy North American Aviation, Inc.

Modern in 1953, a Sabrejet speeds past a 1912 hand-built, pusher plane, demonstrating four decades of remarkable aviation progress. The biplane uses 80 hp to fly a mile a minute, while North American's Sabrejet uses about 12,000 hp to travel more than 700 miles (1,100 kilometers) an hour.

On the morning of December 17, 1903, an obscure bicycle mechanic clambered aboard a strange-looking craft, nodded to his brother and a small group of onlookers, and began one of history's greatest voyages of discovery.

His journey lasted just 12 seconds. 

In those fleeting moments a frail, kite-like machine bore Orville Wright aloft and carried him safely a distance of 120 feet (35 meters) across the desolate, wind-whipped sands at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

Humanity's age-old dream had been realized.  Man had flown successfully for the first time in a powered, heavier-than-air machine.

Celebrating a Year of Jubilee

In the United States, and in many foreign lands on freedom's side of the Iron Curtain, that epoch-making achievement will be commemorated with special ceremonies on December 17, 1953, the fiftieth anniversary of powered flight.

Here in our own land all of 1953 has been declared a Golden Jubilee celebration of the airplane's birth. There have been scores of commemorative events, among them air meets, State and regional air tours by the Civil Air Patrol, special radio and television programs, airport dedications, special newspaper editions, and the issuance of an anniversary airmail stamp.

Perhaps you, like myself, belong to that older generation whose lifetime spans the entire history of successful flight. If so, I am sure you feel, as I do, a sense of wonder at the tremendous scope of the achievements we have witnessed in aviation.

Fifty years is a mere moment in time compared to the millenniums that have passed since man's invention of the wheel. Yet in that relatively brief interval we have seen the airplane grow from a fragile thing of wood, cloth, and wire into the fastest means of travel ever devised.

We, and our children, have seen the warplane play a major role in shaping the fate of nations. We have seen the airliners of peaceful commerce change the habits and living standards of ourselves and our neighbors.

With no exaggeration, mankind's first half century of powered flight has been called "the fifty years that changed the world."

The Wright brothers made a total of four flights that memorable winter's morning, averaging an air speed of 31miles (49 kilometers) per hour. The longest flight, with co-inventor Wilbur at the controls, went 852 feet (259 meters) in 59 seconds.

Speeds and Loads Vastly Increased

How unimpressive these figures inevitably seem in an age when fleets of huge airliners wing along our busy skyroads!  I doubt if even the Wright brothers could have dreamed in 1903 how greatly their distances and speeds would be exceeded.

Including fuel and Orville, the Wright aircraft weighed 750 pounds (350 kilograms). Today any one of a number of planes in the United States scheduled air fleet can carry 50 times that weight and fly 12 to 15 hours nonstop.

Recently a United States research plane streaked more than four miles (six kilometers) in the 12 seconds Orville required to travel 40 yards (35 meters). 

Even the fuselages of some modern military aircraft are longer than that first flight!

In our Air Age the farthest spot on earth is only hours away. Leaving New York, an airlines passenger can reach Paris in 13 hours, Chicago in 3 ¼ , Los Angeles in 10 ¾ , Rome in 19 ¼, Tokyo in 39.

By the time this article appears, one airline plans to be operating the first nonstop coast-to-coast service. New DC-7's will make the flights in less than eight hours.
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