On December 17, 1903, at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright achieved the first sustained flight with a machine that weighed more than air, and with a pilot flying the aircraft. The twelve-second flight, with Orville at the controls, was a revolutionary event in American history. Airplanes were now being manufactured for all sorts of reasons; they were all based on the Kitty Hawk Flyer’s design. The Wright Brothers’ first flight created a whole new world of transportation for both civilian and military purpose.
From the invention of powered flight came the use of airplanes in military combat. The United States government was the first to mass-produce airplanes to use for warfare. During World War II, the use of airplanes had a major impact on wartime economy, making the United States a strong economic power. Although they started with only about 100 planes at the beginning of the war, “airplane manufacturers cooperated with automakers to produce 15,000 additional planes by the end of the war in 1918” (Shlager, 524). These airplanes carried soldiers, dropped bombs, and made control of the skies possible.
By the 1930s, “the U. S. had four airlines delivering millions of passengers, limited mostly to the upper class, to points across the country and the Atlantic Ocean and, by the end of the decade, the Pacific” (Whipps, n. p. ). The impact of the original Kitty Hawk Flyer was highly significant in warfare. After World War II, airplane production advanced rapidly. Passengers were now being carried for many reasons besides just warfare, with prices that were affordable for most people. Airports and other services grew, making flying safer, easier, and more accessible.
Night flying was also made possible with the creation of beacons stationed at airports. European countries began mass-producing the airplane as well. Larger planes were built, and they were now being used for a greater variety of reasons, such as “to speed up delivery of the mail” (Shlager, 524). In the late 1800s, “airplanes became the primary way to reach people involved in earthquakes, fires, hurricanes, typhoons, and floods” (Shlager, 526). The world was suddenly a smaller, more connected place. As airplane advances continued, there was only one direction left to travel: up.
The Wright Brothers’ design eventually led to the invention of the spacecraft, immediately following the jet-set age in the 1950s. The first orbit around the Earth and man’s first steps on the moon changed America once again. Another world was opened to the human race, one that we will continue to explore for the entirety of our being. Unfortunately, the airplane also became the center for extremely destructive action. The high-jacking of airplanes, “with terrorists holding the hostages in return for demands, became a way for small groups of terrorists to make a political statement” (Shalger, 526).
Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor also changed how the United States protected their flights. However, these events resulted in safer flying due to increased security at airports, and the positive aspects always seemed to outweigh the negative ones. The Wright Brothers’ first flight at Kitty Hawk changed transportation forever. Aircraft would not have been as effective in wars, and jet and rocket engines would have been developed much later as well. From its first successful flight to its ability to fly faster than the speed of sound, the airplane has made the world accessible to everyone.