Last year we did the Twelve Days of Aerial Combat, just for fun. This Christmas, remembering the Wrights' telegram this past week in December 1903 (“Success four flights thursday morning all against twenty one mile wind started from Level with engine power alone average speed through air thirty one miles longest 57 seconds inform Press home Christmas”) we found twelve numbers associated with some aviation firsts, which demonstrate just how fast aviation progressed from December 17, 1903 to July 20, 1969.
- Twelve seconds at Kitty Hawk, almost exactly twelve years before the Junkers J1, the first all-metal aircraft, was tested.
- Eleven, the Bleriot that crossed the Channel in 1909
- Ten years after Kitty Hawk the first ramjet was designed by French engineer Rene Lorin
- Nine years after Kitty Hawk was the first parachute jump out of a perfectly good airplane by a US Army captain. Unfortunately for Raoul Lufbery and others, the Allies didn't use the concept for pilots of crashing airplanes for several years.
- Eight victories each earned Oswald Boelcke and Max Immelman the Pour le Merite ("Blue Max") in January 1916. Within two and a half years, the Red Baron died with ten times that score.
- Seven, Fokker D., the 1918 aircraft that could hang on its propeller
- Six hundred feet above the ground: height of first aerobatic loop, in 1913, by Pyotr Nesterov. (If you like creative anachronisms: simulation of Nesterov's loop, by a jet, through the Arc de Triomphe)
- Five victories by the world's first ace, French aviator Adolphe Pegoud, began February 1st, 1915. Pegoud also survived an experiment with a parachute, but was shot down in 1915 by a former student of his from more peaceful days.
- Four-wheeled dolly that the "Kettering Bug," an early version of guided missile, was launched from in 1918 - another innovation from Dayton, Ohio.
- Three...plus...wings on this 1911 aircraft, which had the iconic design to become even more memorable than the Red Baron's tri-plane. It lacked only some engineering (to give it actual flight characteristics) and a more famous pilot, and a more spellable designer's name than d'Equevilly.
- Two months before WWI began, Rene Caudron starts the idea of aircraft carriers with the first shipboard takeoff.
- One forgotten first: first non-stop flight across the Atlantic Ocean by John Alcock and Arthur Brown in June 1919. But wait, didn't Lindbergh do that, in the next decade? Well, that was solo, and anyway it depends what you mean by transatlantic - these men went from Newfoundland to Ireland. In fact, they weren't even the first to fly across the Atlantic, just the first non-stop. Firsts can get confusing. After all, Kitty Hawk was not the first flight, nor the first heavier-than-air flight, nor the first powered, controlled flight. But if you just say the Wright brothers flew the first thing we now call an airplane, everyone will know what you mean, and it will be true.
Merry Christmas, and happy New Year's! We will be taking a couple weeks off to rest up for reporting on the multitude of aviation-related events in the final year of WWI, one hundred years ago.