A Century of Flight

Thursday February 27, 2014 / Posted by Sean H.

Photo courtesy of Brian Blanco/AP Images for IATA

On January 1, 2014, commercial aviation marked its 100th anniversary. In 1914, an industry was born when Tony Jannus flew a Benoist airboat from St. Petersburg, Fla., across the bay to Tampa, a 23-minute journey with only a single paying passenger, Abraham C. Pheil. And what a ride it’s been in the 100 years since then!

In 1935 Pan Am began flying its legendary Trans-Pacific Clipper flights between San Francisco and Manila. The flight took a week, with stops along the way, and it revolutionized communications by delivering more than 100,000 pieces of mail. That first Clipper flight was supposed to go over the San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge, which was under construction at the time, but the pilot realized it wouldn’t make it and managed to steer the aircraft underneath instead.

The first production commercial jetliner, the de Havilland Comet, entered service in 1952 and flew for almost 30 years before the type was retired in 1981. In 1959, the first jet bridge was used, allowing passengers to board their flights without having to climb a staircase and keeping them out of the rain and snow. TWA inaugurated in-flight entertainment in 1961 by debuting motion pictures on board with a 16mm film system developed for a wide variety of commercial aircraft by David Flexer.

More than 100 years later, the industry has changed quite a bit. Virgin America began flying on August 8, 2007, and in just six short years has accomplished a milestone or two along the way. In 2009, the airline became the first domestic U.S. carrier to offer fleet-wide WiFi, and last year Virgin America flew its 53 aircraft on 58,231 flights to 23 cities, covering more than 85 million miles.

This year, the global commercial aviation industry is expected transport more than 3.3 billion passengers. We’ve come a long way since that first 23-minute journey across the bay in Florida! What’s your first flight memory? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook or Twitter using the hashtag #Flying100.