Flying Machines

Stephen Sanders is a student at Lander University and an ISA Featured Blogger. He is currently studying abroad with EuroScholars in Geneva, Switzerland.

I have been in a lot of airports. At first it’s frustrating, and even a little frightening. But the more you fly, the more you become accustomed to hubbub and interminable lines. Looking back on the first time I’d ever flown and how spastic the whole experience was, I’d like to offer my past self a bit of advice: (1) The moment you step through those glass doors, consider yourself a Stoic. (2) Stop thinking about the airport, and think about how amazing it is that you’re about to fly.

It’s really astounding just how mundane commercial flight has become. For most of human history, people dreamed about escaping into the skies; but Icarus’s wings melted too fast, and Da Vinci’s wicked-looking flying machines never made it off the ground.  All of that changed in 1783 when the first unmanned hot air balloon wafted gently above the earth’s surface.  By the end of the 19th century, the well-to-do could take a luxury cruise on Zeppelin, a lot like the one that Indiana Jones high jacked in The Last Crusade.

Blimps hung around for a while; but after the Wright brothers made the first airplane out of canvas and spare bike parts in 1903 (theirs was the first successful fixed-wing aircraft), balloons became old news. The first commercial airline proper emerged in 1914. This was a “flying boat” that could carry one passenger (pilot aside) at a time. This aircraft carried more than 1,200 customers altogether.

Similar such aircraft, which carried a few (up to twenty) passengers at a time, remained the norm up until the late 1920’s and 1930’s, when the air delivery service that had emerged over the past decade was gradually bought up by corporations and private investors. In fact, the first all metal airliner was built by Ford.

What really set the stage for modern flight however was Juan Trippe’s airline Pan American World Airways, a fleet of flying boats that would carry people to major cities and world capitols. Likewise, the technological innovations and global networking resulting from the Second World War made flying easier and increasingly necessary. By the 1950’s airliners in the US and elsewhere more or less resembled the ones that we are currently accustomed to.

In the following decades, national and international flight proliferated, and as more and more people took to the skies, airliners spruced up their planes.  In fact, many companies offered service that was outright lavish, serving people seven course meals on fine china. Some planes even had their own pianos.

As the number of passengers on planes continued to spike, however, such decadence became harder for airliners to maintain. Throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s planes became increasingly packed to accommodate weary travelers and their overstuffed carry-on bags.  Today, roughly 700,000 people up in the air at any given moment. We get to eat tiny pretzel packets at 35,000 feet.

All-in-all, that’s pretty darn mind-blowing.



Want to read more from one of ISA’s talented Student Bloggers? Check out, “Morocco:  A Different World”