Aviation: From Kitty Hawk to Today


Join Active Minds for a review of aviation in the United States. We will begin the story with the Wright Brothers and end with a look at the airline industry today. In between, we’ll visit Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart, aviation in the military, and the impact of 9/11.

Key Lecture Points

  • In 1903, the Wright brothers achieved the first powered and controlled flight of an aircraft. This achievement initiated a century of rapid progress in the new frontier of the skies. World War I played a major role in the development of the aviation industry. Since that time, the dual aspects of aviation—its military and its commercial applications—and the interplay between civilian and military research and development has been a recurring theme. From its earliest stage to the present, military advances have fed civilian ones and vice versa, propelling aviation technologies into the 21st century.
  • The airplane and moving pictures were separate but often interrelated innovations of the early 20th century. The 1927 movie Wings exemplifies this interrelation, in depicting (and fostering) the story of US infatuation with the new frontier of flight. Wings will be the feature film of the Denver Silent Film Festival held from September 21-23, 2012.
  • 1927 also marks Charles Lindbergh’s historic solo flight across the Atlantic from New York to France. A frenzied crowd of more than 100,000 people gathered at Le Bourget Field to greet him when he landed, less than 34 hours after his departure from New York. More than eighty years after this historic flight, aviation still captures the popular imagination.
  • Like Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart continues to fascinate us. Amelia Earhart used aviation to show the equality of men and women. She was the first person to fly solo across the Pacific from Oakland to Honolulu. However, she is most remembered for her ill-fated 1937 attempt to be the first woman to fly around the world.
  • Aerial bombardment played a key role in Allied victories during WWII and in every war since, not to mention the role of planes in intelligence gathering and in the Cold War arms race. Commercial jet flights, beginning in the 1950s, enabled American-made goods and Americans themselves to travel the world over. Advances in aviation have been noted as one of the key technological developments that has spurred the process of globalization.
  • The advent of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), popularly called “drones” is the major aviation technology innovation of the 21st century. The proliferation of drones presents new challenges in military and commercial aviation. The merits and uses of drones are debated, but the technology may signal the end of the need for professional aviators.

Exploration Questions

  • Who were the major pioneers of the Golden Age of Flight and what were their contributions?
  • Describe how military aviation influenced the development of civilian aviation.

Reflective Questions

  • How old were you when you took your first plane trip? Describe how air travel has changed since your first plane trip.
  • What are your favorite movies about flying? What makes them your favorites?

More to Explore

Books For Further Reading

  • Fleming, Candace. Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart. Schwartz & Wade, 2011. 128 pages. Biography of Amelia Earhart.
    Click here to order
  • Lindberg, Anne Morrow. A Gift From the Sea. Pantheon, 1991. 144 pages. Memoir on life and marriage.
    Click here to order
  • Lindberg, Charles. The Spirit of St. Louis. Scribner, 2003. 576 pages. Lindbergh’s own telling of his historic Atlantic flight.
    Click here to order