1911 in Aviation History

Less than a decade after the first flight by the Wright brothers, tremendous progress already had been made and 1911 was a year of many notable accomplishments. For example, the global spread of aviation was evidenced by the first airplane flights occurring in New Zealand, by Vivian Walsh, and in Japan, by Captain Tokugawa. As an illustration of the fast development of flying technology, Edouard Nieuport set an aircraft speed record of 74 mph, and then later raised the record to 87 mph. The first charter flight was flown by Tom Sopwith to deliver spectacles to a wealthy passenger on the ocean liner Olympic, which was several miles at sea when Sopwith dropped a carefully wrapped package onto her deck. The first official airmail flight was flown at the United Provinces Exhibition in Allhabad, India. Cal Rodgers flew the first coast-to-coast airplane trip in the United States by leaving Sheepshead Bay, NY, in the Wright EX aircraft that was named the “Vin Fiz” to promote a new soft drink and landed in Long Beach, CA over a month later. He delivered the first US transcontinental air mail pouch.

On the military side of aviation, Myron Crissy and Philip Parmelee became the first crew to drop live bombs from an aircraft in US Army tests at San Francisco. Carlo Piazza of the Guilio Gavotti of the Italian Air Flotilla dropped grenades on Turkish forces, the first use of bombing in a real war. Foreshadowing the future of Naval Aviation, Eugene Ely executed the first successful landing of an aircraft on a ship when he landed his Curtiss biplane on a platform constructed on the stern of the USS Pennsylvania.

Crissy and Parmelee preparing for first test drop of a live bomb from an aircraft in 1911 (Photo from Wright State Wright Brothers Special Collection).


What of the Wright brothers? Strangely enough, Orville Wright returned to Kitty Hawk in 1911 to try his hand at more glider flights. In October, he broke all gliding records by staying aloft for 9 minutes and 45 seconds, a record that stood for a decade.

Orville Wright’s 1911 return to Kitty Hawk, at the control’s of the record setting glider (Photo from the Wright State Wright Brothers Special Collection).


Undoubtedly, 1911 was an exciting time in aviation! Happily, Tom Sopwith lived to be more than 100 years old and helped to produce vital fighter aircraft for the Royal Air Force in both World Wars. Sadly, Edouard Nieuport, Cal Rodgers, and Eugene Ely all died in aviation accidents before the end of 1911.

As we meet again this year at the International Symposium on Aviation Psychology, it is fitting that we remember the sacrifice and dedication of these early pioneers while dedicating ourselves to enhancing safety and effectiveness for future aviation innovators.

All photos from the Wright State University, Special Collections Archive – Wright Brothers Collections