““[Bill Gates] has been historically one of my best supporters…One of my favorite e-mails he ever sent me…I proposed this crazy project. And he sent back this two-line response: ‘This has got to be the craziest thing you’ve ever suggested. Please proceed.’” ”
Recalling aviation's fifth anniversary
Business Jet Traveler published its inaugural issue in October 2003-just two months before the 100th anniversary of Orville and Wilber Wright's first powered flight. Granted, BJT's launch is not as historic as the brothers' world-changing 12-second journey, but hey, at least the magazine's debut was witnessed by more people than the few Coast Guardsmen who watched the Wrights on that windy North Carolina beach.
In the half decade since this publication's launch, at any rate, both it and business aviation have experienced a variety of changes-which started me wondering about what was going on in the aviation world during its fifth year, in 1908. Here's some of what I learned:
• Wilbur Wright spent much of the year in Europe, on a demonstration tour with his Wright Flyer. Those of the Old World who had doubted the Wrights' achievements were quickly won over when they witnessed the aircraft's performance. To chants of "Weeelbur! Weeelbur!" from the crowd, the elder Wright brother set a record near Le Mans, France, remaining aloft for two hours, 19 minutes. With business prospects in mind (and having received only lukewarm interest from the U.S. military), Wilbur also inked a cooperation agreement that year with a French syndicate to construct flying machines in France.
• The world's first airport-Port-Aviation-opened outside Paris. History does not record who won the contract to construct the parking garage.
• The first-ever airshow opened in Paris as the French president rededicated the second week of the Annual Automobile Salon to the fledgling field of aviation. The event took place within the Grand Palais and featured both heavier-than-air ships and balloons.
• Also in France, Henri Bleriot was hard at work on his Bleriot IX monoplane. It would fly for the first time in January 1909, and Bleriot would become the first person to pilot a heavier-than-air ship across the English Channel.
• Meanwhile, the English were keen on flying, too, and J.T.C. Moore-Brabazon in 1908 flew 1,350 feet in a Voisin biplane at Issy-les-Moulineaux, France. He was issued the first pilot's license in the UK the same year.
• Ironically, it was an American, Colonel Samuel F. Cody, who made the first recognized controlled flight in a powered aircraft in the UK, on Oct. 16, 1908.
• Back in the U.S., Wright archrival Glenn Curtiss received the first Scientific American Trophy in honor of the July 4 flight of his "June Bug," which flew 5,090 feet in 102.5 seconds. Two years later, Curtiss would win the first international speed event at a pace of 47 mph. He later became the first American to successfully fly a seaplane.
• Throughout the U.S. in 1908, word of the Wrights' success inspired a legion of would-be aeronauts. In Kansas, lawyer Henry Call displayed blueprints for a rudimentary airplane and talked of establishing a factory to be named Aerial Navigation Co. of America. His four-wing, two-engine, four-propeller airplane was later described as being "about the same size as a haystack-and about as likely to fly." Of some 15 designs, only one of Call's machines reportedly took to the air, albeit briefly, in 1912.
• The first fatal airplane crash occurred on Sept. 17, 1908, while Orville Wright was conducting a demonstration flight. A propeller blade splintered, causing him to lose control. The aircraft crashed nose first. Orville was seriously injured and his passenger died the next day.
• In Minneapolis, meanwhile, the six-year-old son of an Swedish immigrant was getting restless. As he would later recall of that winter, "I grow tired of books and toys, and pressing my face against a frosted window. I move aimlessly about, experiment with new fields." Less than 20 years later, that young man would become the most celebrated aviator in history by flying alone from New York to Paris in a tiny single-engine airplane known as the "Spirit of St. Louis." His name, of course, was Charles Lindbergh.