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Flying Machines: A History of Early Aviation

The Pioneer Era

First Pilot’s License

In 1911, the Aero Club of America issued its first pilot licenses to five established aviators. Presented alphabetically, Glenn Curtiss received license #1. Orville and Wilbur Wright held licenses #4 and #5 behind U.S. Army pilot Frank Lahm (#2) and French aviator Louis Paulhan (#3). Subsequent pilots had to pass a flight test to earn a license.

Based on Fédération Aéronautique Internationale’s rules, license requirements included three flights of at least five kilometers, a series of figure-eight turns, a flight above 50 meters, and a landing within 50 meters of a designated spot. Roseberry, C. R. Glenn Curtiss: Pioneer of Flight. Doubleday, 1972. View Source.

Harriet Quimby

Thirty-six-year-old Harriet Quimby became the first female licensed pilot in the U.S. on August 1, 1911, when she earned license #37 from the Aero Club of America. She became a prize-winning pilot at air meets and was the first woman to fly across the English Channel in April 1912. Like many aviators of her generation, Quimby’s life was cut short when she died in a plane crash near Boston on July 1, 1912.

Harriet Quimby in the cockpit of her Blériot XI monoplane, an aircraft designed by French aviator Louis Blériot. The Blériot XI was widely used at air meets in Europe and the U.S.

First U.S. Transcontinental Flight

In October 1910, William Randolf Hearst offered $50,000 to the first pilot to make a transcontinental flight in less than 30 days. Calbraith Perry Rogers was one of a handful of pilots eager to make the attempt. He departed Long Island on September 17, 1911, and followed rail lines west across the country. After several crashes and aircraft breakdowns, Rogers arrived in Pasadena, California, on November 19 having completed his 4,231-mile journey.He missed winning the Hearst prize by 19 days, but became a national celebrity as newspapers followed the progress of his flight.

Cal Rogers at the controls of a Wright Model EX built by Orville and Wilbur

Cal Rogers at the controls of a Wright Model EX built by Orville and Wilbur for the fight. It was named Vin Fiz by Rogers’ sponsor, Armor Meat Packing Company, that used the flight to advertise their new grape-flavored soft drink, Vin Fiz “Calbraith Rogers Makes His Last Flight.” Fly Magazine, vol. 4, no. 7, 1912. View Source.