What the First Passenger Planes Were Like


Odd Nugget wright brothers

Before airplanes were the norm, gliders were man's best bet at beating Icarus in his lofty game.

Crafty types like Karl Wilhelm Otto Lilienthal and Percy Sinclair Pilcher took to the skies on wings of their own creation way back in the 19th century. Otto flew for the first time in 1891, using his "Derwitzer" glider which carried him a distance of 80 feet.

derwitzer glider

“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”

- Leonardo da Vinci

Percy, inspired by Otto, took flight with his own glider variation, the "Bat" in 1895. He'd break Otto's record with an 820-foot flight in 1897, but the two of them would both go on to break their bodies irreperably in ill-fated glider flights.

The Wright Brothers would ultimately succeed in surviving their flights, though Orville would suffer a rather serious crash in the process.

The First Actual Passenger Plane

Wright Flyer III

Thanks to the specific demands of a French company and the US Government, the Wright brothers ended up producing the first powered plane to carry both the pilot and a single passenger. This first passenger plane was called the "Wright Flyer III" and the passenger, Charles Furnas, was a local mechanic.

“The secret of flight is this -- you have to do it immediately, before your body realizes it is defying the laws.”

- Michael Cunningham, A Home at the End of the World

Furnas was flown first by Wilbur and then again by Orville. The first flight lasted just 29 seconds.

How Commercial Airlines Began

Flying Boat

Unlike most instances where a sentence begins with "Florida man...," the formation of what would become the world's first commercial airline is a story to delight any true entrepreneur.

Florida man Percival Elliott Fansler pursued the idea of establishing a flight service between St. Petersburg and Tampa doggedly despite officials initially turning him down.

Fansler eventually got his way, using specially designed flying boats created by Thomas Benoist. The chosen pilot, Tony Jannus, was a 24-year-old wingman reckless enough to give the venture a go. The airline was successful, but it only lasted four months.

The World's Most Popular Passenger Planes

Boeing 737

Passenger planes have changed tremendously since the fantastic flying boats of Tampa Bay's past. Now, transcontinental flights are a regular occurrence and certain planes in particular practically rule the skies.

The most popular passenger planes are Boeing's 737 and Airbus' A320. Both plane models spawned expansive families of passenger jets that have thus far dominated the commercial airline market.

Only recently has either line of airplanes encountered a significant snag in international sales, with Boeing's updated 737 Max suffering two serious and fatal crashes within a troublingly short timeframe.

Unique Passenger Planes

In addition to the most common varieties, a few passenger planes stand out as unique; numbering among them is Airbus' A380. With a double-deck design for passengers and a wingspan of just under 260 feet, this is one of the biggest brutes ever to cross the crosswinds.

airbus a380

Two turbojets have entered the passenger plane sphere, albeit only to be retired indefinitely, setting incredible airline flight speed records that have yet to be bested. The Concorde was one of the two. It was the 'Flash' of commercial air travel, capable of traveling at twice the speed of sound.

Unfortunately, the need for speed such jets satisfied was trumped by the need for realistic price points and reasonably quiet civillian space. The Concorde's penchant for producing sonic booms made it viable only when flown over oceans, reducing its utility considerably.

concorde jet

The only airlines to use Concordes were European - namely British Airways and Air France, but the planes cost them more money than they were worth.

Are You Traveling in the EU?

In accordance with EU Regulation 261/2004 a passenger is entitled to 250-600 euros of compensation in case of:

  • Flight delay more than 3 hours
  • Flight cancellation
  • Denied boarding due to overbooking
  • Missed connection due to a delay of the first segment (you arrived at your destination more than 3 hours later than planned)

You May Be Eligible for Flight Compensation

There you have it. All the best bits about the history of passenger planes condensed to fit a single article.

Obviously, there is much more to discover in aviation's rich history, and there is even more to look forward to in its future. Maybe we'll all be pilots soon enough...

Then again, maybe not...

Read up on Honeywell's micro UAV...


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