The 6,871 commercial aircraft in the U.S. carry more than 2.5 million passengers and approximately 40 billion pounds of freight. Commercial aviation in this country has certainly come a long way from the 120 feet traveled by the first powered aircraft designed by the Wright brothers and flown in 1903 to where the industry is today.Beginnings of commercial aviation
Technically, the Wright brothers were not the first ones to put a powered flying machine into the air. Other inventors came before them with the concept of a heavier-than-air machine capable of flight.
What makes the events at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, of such historic significance in the history of commercial aviation is the ability of the Wright brothers to incorporate a functional control system into their aircraft. Wilbur and Orville Wright did not claim credit for designing a machine that could fly, but they were the first to design with control of the flight in the hands of the pilot.
As historic as the Wright brothers’ feat might have been, it was actually Glenn Curtiss who took the concept of sustained free flight to the next level by designing a plane capable of taking off and landing on water. The design allowed a plane to be built with the capacity of carrying both a pilot and a passenger.
Passengers and airmail
Scheduled air travel began in 1914 when a passenger paid $5 to go travel from Tampa to St. Petersburg in Florida. The U.S. Postal Service began airmail service in 1917 and eventually expanded it to include flights to the West Coast by 1920.
Introduction of the Boeing 247 in 1933 paved the way for the modern age of air travel. The plane carried 10 passengers and was equipped with land gear that retracted once the plane was in the air.
Future of commercial aviation
Commercial aviation is not standing still. Boeing unveiled plans for development of an aircraft designed specifically to carry freight. One of its unique features is its propulsion system. Instead of relying upon traditional engines and fuels, it will be powered by electricity.