Science News Roundup: The Aviation Edition

First flight of the Wright Flyer I, December 1...

In honor of Orville Wright’s 140th birthday, Caterpickles takes a quick look at today in aviation history.

First up, naturally, is Orville Wright himself. Born this day in 1871, he and his brother Wilbur invented the first aircraft capable of controlled flight in 1903. Although their first flight at Kitty Hawk on December 17, 1903 lasted a mere 12 seconds, within five years, the Wright brothers had refined their design to create an aircraft capable of 2 hours of sustained flight.

By August 19, 1911, aviation technology had advanced far enough for a British naval officer to set a new flight endurance record: logging 4 hours, 58 minutes, and 30 seconds of sustained flight. The next few decades were a whirlwind of record-setting, as aviators tried to outdo each other in distance, speed, and general derring-do.

By the thirties the craze to set aviation records had even infected the children. In 1930, Frank Goldsborough flew from the East Coast of the United States to the West in just about 32 (nonconsecutive) hours, setting a new transcontinental airspeed record for the under-21 set. Determined to beat it, Eddie August Schneider flew from Westfield, NJ to Los Angeles, CA in August of the same year. By the time he landed in LA on (you guessed it) August 19, 1930, Schneider had logged 29 hours and 55 minutes of nonconsecutive flight time in just four days, shaving some 4 hours and 22 minutes off Goldsborough’s time.

For context, these times can’t hold a candle to the times set by the older crowd. Ruth Nichols‘ record for transcontinental airspeed, also set in 1930, was for a trip completed in just 13 hours and 21 minutes of flying time. (Nichols’ record was later broken by Amelia Earhart in 1933 and again by Laura Ingalls in 1934.) Two men also set new records for transcontinental airspeed in 1930. The faster of the two times, logged by Roscoe Turner on November 14, 1930, was for 12 hours and 33 minutes of flight time.

Fast forward to fifty-two years after the Wright brother’s début at Kitty Hawk, and we find pets getting into the action. On August 19, 1960, the Russians launched the crew of the Sputnik 5–two dogs named Belka and Strelka, forty mice, 2 rats, and a variety of plants–into space. Their trip was a short one, as the Sputnik 5 returned to Earth after only one day in orbit, but it was long enough to set a new aviation record–the first live animals to be sent into and to return from space.

The launch of Sputnik 5 occurred a mere 12 years after Orville Wright’s death in 1948. It’s a shame. I would have loved to see an old newsreel of David Brinkley interviewing Orville Wright on the U.S.-Soviet space race on The Huntley-Brinkley Report.

(Image of the Wright Brothers’ first flight at Kitty Hawk via Wikipedia.)

So, what about you? What are you thinking about on this National Aviation Day?

About Shala Howell

I spent two decades helping companies like Bell Labs, Juniper Networks, and a genetic testing company that was later acquired by CVS translate some of the world’s most complicated concepts into actionable, understandable English. Now I'm working on a much harder problem -- fostering children’s curiosity and engagement in the scientific, artistic, and linguistic world that surrounds them. The first book in my Caterpickles Parenting Series, What’s That, Mom?, focuses on how to use public art to nurture children’s curiosity in the world around them. My next book, Did Dinosaurs Have Belly Buttons?, is currently planned for release in 2018. In the meantime, you can find me blogging about life with a very curious Ten-Year-Old at, chatting about books and the writing life at, and tweeting about books, writing, science, & things that make me smile at @shalahowell.
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2 Responses to Science News Roundup: The Aviation Edition

  1. Susan says:

    The Laura Ingalls reference really threw me. I didn’t know there was another famous one.
    I also never knew how significant this day was in aviation history. Great post!


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