Charles Lindbergh, 1927 (Library of Congress)
The airplane flown by Wilbur and Orville Wright at Kitty Hawk was the culmination of centuries of dreams and decades of gestation by geniuses and tinkerers alike. Human flight was a breakthrough like no other, permitting us to move and explore the world in an entirely new dimension. It changed our perspective of ourselves.
Almost like a newborn baby, though, there was a time when the airplane was a helpless (and almost completely useless) miracle. As the airplane grew up, it shaped and was shaped by the world it came into. While its birth inspired scientists, artists, and writers who imagined its infinite possibilities for advancing human unity, its adolescence and maturity were forged in a crucible of horrors in the First World War.
It emerged utterly changed: an engineering marvel, a platform for adventurers and entertainers; a promise of limitless transportation, and a defender and destroyer of unprecedented power. Its many roles came into full realization in the 1920s, culminating the epochal 1927 flight of Charles Lindbergh across the Atlantic, which forever proved the airplane’s global influence.
In a multimedia presentation, aviation expert Paul Glenshaw explores the scientific, cultural, and social contexts for the invention and rise of the airplane—how it changed the world, how the world changed it, and how a critical period early in the last century launched the wild ride we’ve been on ever since.
Glenshaw is a frequent contributor to the Smithsonian's Air & Space magazine and co-producer and co-writer of the PBS documentary Barnstorming. His photographs have appeared in Flying, Aviation Week & Space Technology, and the Washington Post Magazine.
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