Our 10 Favourite Aviation Firsts (and a first flight to St Helena)

St Helena might be a tiny island (just 10 x 5 miles) but last week it made big news in aviation.The very first landing took place on its new runway on 15th September 2015, by a Beechcraft King Air 200.

Until last week, the volcanic island in the Atlantic was only accessible by boat, with ships often using the island when sailing to Europe from Asia and South Africa.

That all changed with the decision to build St Helena its own airport four years ago. This is scheduled to open officially in February 2016, but this lucky test pilot was Captain Grant Brighton, (who praised the quality of the runway upon landing).

The opening of a new airport is a rare event these days in aviation. One that makes a huge impact on the economy of the local community – particularly an island one like this. And given its isolation and scenery, St Helena could very well become a top-rated landing for aviation fans around the world too. The airstrip is located just along the shore, offering amazing views upon approach. (See which airports our voters rated the world’s most scenic landings earlier this year).

Aviation has a fairly short history – it’s only just over 100 years since the first powered aircraft took flight.

So much has been achieved over this century and a bit, but there are still many firsts taking place in aviation history today – and some big ones to look forward to in the future (some of which we can’t even predict yet).

So here’s a look back at 10 of our favourite Aviation Firsts – key milestones that helped our industry become what it is today.

First powered aircraft flight (1903)

The Wright brothers famously built the first working aircraft in the early 1900s, and called it the Wright Flyer.

And on 17th December, 1903  it took flight for four miles in North Carolina – the world’s first ever sustained, controlled, powered heavier-than-air manned flight.

First flight across the English Channel (1909)

A few years’ later, in July 1909, the race to cross the English Channel by airplane was in full force. The eventual winner was aviator Louis Bleriot and his Bleriot XI. Bleriot travelled 20nm in 37 minutes, at an average speed of 38mph, from Calais to Lydd.

First transcontinental flight (1911)

Cal Rodgers completed the first transcontinental flight across the USA in the Wright EX “Vin Fiz”. He departed from Long Island, New York to Pasadena, California in 1911.

First Atlantic crossing (1919)

The Curtiss NC-4 was the first aircraft to cross the Atlantic in May 1919, but it made several stops in the process.

The first successful non-stop attempt made a month later by the Vickers Vimy, a British bomber. The flight was from St John’s (Canada) to Clifden (Ireland) and lasted more than 16 hours.

First round-the-world flight (1924)

Several countries were vying to complete the first aerial circumnavigation in the 1920s, but the first to succeed was the USA. The first round-the-world flight was completed in Seattle, Washington in 1924 by a team of aviators from United States Army Air Service. The trip took 175 days, covering over 27,553 miles (44,342 km).

Today the Gulfstream G650ER holds the speed record for round-the-world flight. Requiring just one stop, it circulated the earth in a total flight time of just 25 hours and 20 minutes.

First supersonic flight (1947)

Captain Charles E Yeager broke the sound barrier for the very first time on 14th October 1947, with the rocket powered Bell X-1.

But it was nearly 30 years until passengers were able to experience supersonic flight for the first time. Firstly in 1975, on the Tupolev Tu-144. Quickly followed, of course, by Concorde, which operated many flights between 1976 and 2003.

Since then, no supersonic aircraft has been in passenger service, but there are many new projects underway – some even promising to fly from London to New York in just three hours. Read more: When will supersonic jets become a reality?

First private jet flight (1963)

The first purpose built private jet – the LearJet 23 – took flight on 7th October, 1963. The elegant jet boasted a luxurious cabin with six seats, and could cover a range of more than 1300nm.

This was the birth of the private jet industry. Learn more about the history of the private jet with our infographic timeline.

First all-electric passenger flight (1973)

In 1973 the West German Militky MB-E1 became the first full-size passenger aircraft to fly solely on electric power. It used Ni-Cd batteries and a 10kW DC motor, which gave it a flight duration of over 12 minutes.

Sustaining a longer flight time is still a challenge today in electric flight development. But earlier this year, the E-Fan, designed by Didier Esteyne and Airbus Group, crossed the English Channel from Lydd to Calais – another first for electric aviation. Find out more about the E-Fan.

The E-Fan (Source: Airbus Group)

First solar-powered passenger flight (2010)

While other aircraft with photovoltaic (solar) panels have flown before, in 2010 the Solar Impulse became the first to fly with a person onboard.

After a test flight of 87 minutes, the Solar Impulse has now completed several international flights, and can even fly at night.

The latest version Solar Impulse II began a world tour in March of 2015. However, after a difficult crossing of the Pacific Ocean, it is now grounded in Hawaii until Spring 2016, when it’s planned to complete its round-the-world itinerary.

First online private jet booking platform (2008)

It might seem a comparatively small first, compared to the Wright Brothers. But at PrivateFly we’re proud of being the first to bring private jet booking into the modern age. PrivateFly was created to set up the first online private jet booking platform in 2008, allowing users to compare prices from accredited private jet operators and to book online.

Two years later, we were the first to launch a private jet app, allowing users to view prices and private jet bookings directly on their phone. The app is now available on both the App Store and Android Market for multiple regions and languages.

Do you have other favourite aviation firsts? Share them with us on Facebook or Twitter.

And whether it’s for your first flight, or one of many, contact our expert Flight Team (24 hours) for pricing and advice on +44 1747 642 777.