8 pivot points in aviation history

The story of aviation is a story of innovators

For hundreds of years, innovators have been findings ways to give humankind the power of flight, and to make that flight safer, easier, and more productive as a tool of human transportation. Here are 8 remarkable moments in aviation history – pivot points in which aeronautics took quantum leaps forward in performance, convenience, and safety.

#1 – 1505: Da Vinci

Leonardo Da Vinci was revered for his innovations and technological ingenuity. The Flying Machine was just one of his visionary concepts – others included solar power, an adding machine, and the double-hull for boats. His Codex on the Flight of Birds begins by examining the flight behavior of birds and then proposes mechanisms for Human Flight. One of Da Vinci's more memorable quotes: "When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return."

#2 – 1783: First hot air balloon

Hot air balloons were the first successful "human-carrying" flight technology. Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier and François Laurent d'Arlandes performed the first untethered (free flight) manned hot air balloon flight on November 21, 1783, in Paris, in a balloon built by Joseph Michel and Jacques Etienne Montgolfier. The Montgolfier brothers are credited with inventing the hot air balloon after experimenting with the buoyant nature of heated air.

#3 – 1852: First powered airship

The Frenchman Henri Giffard built the world's first powered airship, a 143-ft long, gas-filled bag with a propeller, powered by a 3-horsepower steam engine. The craft's elongated hydrogen-filled envelope was tapered to a point at each end. From this, a long beam was suspended with a sail-like rudder. Beneath the beam, there was a platform for the pilot and steam engine.

#4 – 1903: Wright Brothers

Orville and Wilbur Wright are generally credited with building and flying the world's first successful fixed-wing, powered-flight airplane. They made the first controlled, sustained flight of a "heavier than air" aircraft on December 3,1903, memorializing Kitty Hawk as the birthplace of modern aviation. Their biggest breakthrough? The invention of three-axis control, enabling the pilot to steer the aircraft effectively and to maintain its equilibrium.

#5 – 1927: Charles Lindbergh

This was the flight heard around the world. At age 25, Lindbergh was the first to fly nonstop across the Atlantic, making the ​33 1⁄2-hour, 3,600-mile trip between New York and Paris alone in a single-engine monoplane, the Spirit of St. Louis. "Lucky Lindy" changed forever the way people thought about flying.

#6 – 1940s: World War II

All-metal aircraft (replacing wood and fabric biplanes). Hard runways. Radar. Pressurized cabins. Jet engines. World War II fueled enormous innovations that carried forward into commercial aviation and paved the way for the quantum leaps realized in the 21st century.

#7 – 1994: Global Positioning System (GPS)

In 1994, the FAA certified the first Global Positioning System (GPS) unit for use in Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) operations. GPS quickly became the dominant form of en route and landing approach navigation, allowing aircraft to make low-visibility landings and navigate with a precision that was previously unthinkable.

#8 – 2018: Surface management

Aviation Safety Technologies (AST) pioneers real-time data-based surface management, providing airlines and airports with hard data about actual runway surface conditions and available friction for incoming aircraft. This insight helps to reduce the risk of runway excursions or other surface-related incidents and improves operational efficiencies for both airports and airlines. Guesswork about braking action and surface conditions is now replaced with knowledge.