The first week of January in aviation history: a time for firsts


The first week of January marks the start of the new year. The start of the year has also witnessed a number of historic 'firsts' in aviation.

As long ago as 3-Jan-1496, for example, Leonardo da Vinci tested a flying machine. It failed.

More successful was the world's first commercial airline service, launched on 1-Jan-1914.

The first week of January has considerable significance for aviation companies, ranging from Avro Aircraft to Lufthansa and LOT Polish.

It has also marked milestones in the lives of a number of aviation trailblazers from the early decades of powered flight and the introduction of the first airline uniforms.

  • The first week of January witnessed the testing of a flying machine more than 400 years before the first powered flight.
  • The world's first scheduled air service was launched in Jan-1914.
  • A number of other flights achieving 'firsts' also took place in the first week of January.
  • Among the aviation companies that have origins in the first week of January are Avro Aircraft Company, the predecessor of TAROM and Air France, Lufthansa, LOT Polish Airlines.
  • The first week of January was significant in the lives of the pioneering pilots Amelia Earhart, Amy Johnson, Hubert Latham and Guy Menzies.

Historic aviation firsts in the first week of January

3-Jan-1496 - The Italian Renaissance polymath Leonardo da Vinci unsuccessfully tested a flying machine.

The painter, sculptor, architect, draughtsman, engineer and scientist sketched a number of designs for flying machines, including a helicopter-like device with a rotor powered by four men, as well as contraptions with flapping wings and gliders.

The challenge he was unable to overcome was devising propulsion with sufficient power.

Leonardo da Vinci's rotor winged flying machine design

1-Jan-1901 - Edwin Alliott Verdon-Roe and his brother Humphrey established the A. V. Roe Aircraft Company in Manchester.

The company, later renamed Avro Aircraft, went on to manufacture the Lancaster bomber, a stalwart of Britain's World War II Bomber Command, and the Vulcan, a delta-wing jet bomber designed to carry nuclear weapons during the Cold War.

Avro became part of Hawker Siddely and then British Aerospace, which revived the Avro name for its BAe 146 range of regional jets.

7-Jan-1910 - The French aviator Hubert Latham became the first pilot to fly higher than 1,000 metres, achieving a height of 1,100 metres (3,600 feet), breaking his own record.

Latham achieved many other aviation firsts, including the first landing on the sea. In his attempt to make the first air crossing of the English Channel in Jul-1909, engine failure forced him to set down.

The aircraft floated on the water, while he lit a cigarette and awaited rescue.

1-Jan-1914 - The SPT Airboat Line became the world's first scheduled fixed wing airline, operating between St Petersburg and Tampa, both in the US state of Florida.

The Benoist Type XIV aircraft covered the 23 miles in around 23 minutes, compared with a two-hour boat journey, or a four- to 12-hour train journey, or a 20-hour car trip between the two cities. The fare was USD5, but the first round-trip ticket was sold by auction for USD400, the winning bidder being the mayor of St Petersburg, Abram C Pheil.

Tony Jannus, the world's first airline pilot, flew most of the route at around five feet (1.5 metres) above the water of Tampa Bay. The service only operated until 5-May-1914, but it changed the world of passenger transport forever.

As the aircraft's builder, Thomas Benoist, said, "Some day people will be crossing oceans on airliners like they do on steamships today".

Tony Jannus in the Benoist flying boat

1-Jan-1920 - The founding of CFRNA, the French-Romanian Company for Air Transport. Its Paris to Bucharest service was the first transcontinental route in aviation history.

On 1-Jan-1925 it was renamed The International Air Navigation Company. The airline was absorbed by Air France when it was formed in 1933, while its Romanian arm eventually became TAROM.

3-Jan-1921 - The US aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart had her first flying lesson after saving USD1,000 working as a photographer, truck driver and stenographer. Her teacher was Neta Snook, herself a leading aviator (including being the first woman to run her own aviation business and a commercial airfield).

Amelia Earhart went on to become the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic in 1932 and the first woman to fly solo between Hawaii and the USA. She disappeared over the Pacific Ocean during an attempted round the world flight in 1937 and was declared dead in absentia on 5-Jan-1939.

1-Jan-1922 - Flying between London and Paris, Instone Air Line introduced uniforms for its cockpit crew and staff, thought to be the first airline to do so.

Instone became part of Imperial Airways (1924), which merged into BOAC (1939) and then British Airways (1974).

3-Jan-1922 - The first flight of the biplane Aero A. 10, Czechoslovakia's first domestically built commercial aircraft.

6-Jan-1926 - The German airline Deutsche Luft Hansa was founded in Berlin through the merger of Deutscher Aero Lloyd and Junkers Luftverkehr.

The name means 'German Air Hansa', the last word a reference to the Hanseatic League, a medieval trade confederation in central and Northern Europe. The crane symbol came from Deutscher Aero Lloyd.

The Deutsche Luft Hansa crane logo

1-Jan-1929 - Operations launched for LOT Polish Airlines, after its founding by the Polish government on 29-Dec-1929.

1-Jan-1931 - The British pioneering pilot Amy Johnson took off from North London's Stag Lane aerodrome in her Gipsy Moth, named Jason III, on the first leg of an attempt to fly to Beijing via Berlin, Warsaw, Moscow, Omsk and the route of the Trans-Siberian railway. The Beijing attempt was abandoned after a crash in Poland.

Amy Johnson had become famous in 1930, when she became the first woman to fly solo from England to Australia.

7-Jan-1931 - The first nonstop solo flight between Australia and New Zealand took place.

Guy Menzies flew across the Tasman Sea in 11 hours and 45 minutes after bad weather forced him off course from his planned destination of Blenheim. The Australian pilot crash-landed the aircraft upside down in the LA Fontaine Swamp near Hari Hari on the west coast of New Zealand.

A previous crossing of the Tasman had been completed in 1928, but that flight had more than one aviator.

Among the crew on the 1928 flight was Charles Kingsford Smith, an Australian aviation pioneer for whom Sydney's main airport is named.

Guy Menzies achieved his solo trans-Tasman flight using an Avro Sports Avian that Smith had flown from England.

1-Jan-1934 - The German airline Deutsche Luft Hansa was renamed Lufthansa. The airline ceased operations in 1945.

Today's Lufthansa, founded as LuftAG on 6-Jan-1953, acquired the name of, and logo of, its predecessor in 1954.

5-Jan-1941 - After going off course in bad weather, Amy Johnson (see above) bailed out of her aircraft over the Thames Estuary. A passing Royal Navy ship, HMS Haslemere, attempted a rescue after seeing her in the water calling for help. However, this failed when she disappeared under the vessel and her body was never recovered.

The ship's captain, Lt Cdr Walter, Fletcher dived into the sea as part of the attempt and died in hospital a few days later, due to the severe cold. It is thought that Amy Johnson's aircraft may have been the victim of friendly fire.

1-Jan-1946 - British European Airways was formed.

1-Jan-1946 - A British South American Airways Avro Lancastrian became the first commercial flight to depart Heathrow Airport.

6-Jan-1947 - The first scheduled round-the-world flights were offered by Pan Am, either westbound from the US west coast, or eastbound from the east coast, and ending on the opposite coast. Passengers could take extended stopovers at any city on the way, departing on a later flight.

3-Jan-1950 - The first commercial nonstop flight from Tokyo, Japan, to Honolulu, Hawaii, operated by a Pan Am Boeing 377 Stratocruiser.

5-Jan-1952 - A Douglas DC-6 operated Pan Am's first trans Atlantic freighter service.

1-Jan-1960 - A reorganisation of Fiji Airways led to its equal ownership by BOAC, Qantas and Tasman Empire Airways. Tasman Empire Airways became Air New Zealand in 1965.

3-Jan-1963 - The first flight of the Ilyushin II-62 took off. It was then the world's largest commercial jet and the first four-engined long range commercial jet operated by the Soviet bloc.

6-Jan-1963 - Aeroflot launched the first direct flights between Moscow and Havana, Cuba.

2-Jan-1989 - The first flight of the first Russian fly-by-wire airliner, the Tupolev Tu-204 took off. The twin-engined jet had capacity for 210 passengers.

1-Jan-2010 - The merger of Northwest Airlines with Delta Air Lines took effect.

Aviation owes much to its pioneers

Aviation has come a very long way since the early days of powered flight.

There have been enormous - once unimaginable - strides in aircraft size, range and speed; in passenger comfort; in affordability; and in safety.

Most of what is almost taken for granted today owes much to the pioneers who paved the way. A good deal of their achievements took place in the first week of January.

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