As in this 1871 photo of a balloon ascending over Ferndale, Calif., some of the earliest attempts to conquer space were in free-floating, hot-air balloons. Next came heavier than air machines and, ultimately, rocket ships that can elude gravity and soar into space. Lucky for us, photographers and artists were often on hand to document and imagine these journeys.
This photo and those that follow are from the “Skydreamers” exhibition on view at the Autry National Center in Los Angeles through Sept. 4, 2011. Unless otherwise noted, the images are from the collection of Stephen White.
In his now classic aviation book, "Birdflight as the Basis of Aviation," published in 1889, Otto Lilienthal outlined his theories on flying based on his study of bird wing structure and the aerodynamics of bird flight. He built and famously experimented with a series of 18 bird-inspired gliders and served as an inspiration for Orville and Wilbur Wright, who studied his gliding techniques.
This photo circa 1912 shows celebrity aeronaut Roy Knabenshue’s dirigible sitting above the Raymond Hotel in Pasadena, Calif. According to James R. Chiles, author of "The God Machine: From Boomerangs to Black Hawks, the Story of the Helicopter," “Publicity flights by Knabenshue and fellow aeronauts such as T.S. Baldwin pulled young inventors into aviation. One of those was [aviation pioneer] Glenn Curtiss, who started by building engines for dirigibles."
Stunt pilot Art Smith became well known for aerobatic flying and for using flares to do skywriting at night, a talent he exhibited on the closing night of San Francisco’s Pan Pacific International Exposition in 1915. Smith later went on to work for the U.S. Post Office as one the first air mail pilots.
Famed aviator Charles Lindbergh stands in front of his airplane, the Spirit of St. Louis, shortly after completing the first solo, nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean in May 1927. The plane is now in Washington, D.C., at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum.
In 1934, the Griffith Park Observatory was getting ready to open in Los Angeles. This photograph shows artist Roger Haywood sculpting a section of an exact replica of the moon, reduced to 38 feet.
This portrait of Amelia Earhart at the controls in her plane was probably taken in early 1937 and is an example of the many photos of the famous flier that appeared in newspapers of the day. In 1932, Earhart became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic. In 1935, she was the first pilot to fly solo to Hawaii. In July 1937, she disappeared while attempting to fly around the world.
Robert Doisneau was a famous French photographer well known for capturing offbeat and often humorous situations of daily life, including this classic 1934 shot of a bored father taking his son for a spin in the family plane.
Skydreamers curator Stephen White has collected many of these popular photo-postcards and explained: “Amusement parks and carnivals often imitated the latest inventions in mechanics, including cars, boats and airplanes. Postcards like this could be made at a fair and then sent home to the family.”
If people from Earth were heading out into space, why wouldn’t beings from space make a visit to earth? “Flying saucer hovering just over a house would be ominous if they existed beyond the imagination of Hollywood,” said White. “This image appears to be a still from a 1950s motion picture that came out at the height of the craze surrounding flying saucers.”
White isn’t quite sure what this photo means; only that it’s beautiful, complicated and filled with space-related imagery. Titled, "Answer from God," the image was used as an illustration in a series of articles published in the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun in 1957.
In this photo, Russian cosmonaut Valentina Terseshkova tries on her helmet before the historic June 16, 1963, flight that made her the first woman in space. Tereshkova orbited the Earth almost three times and, when she landed, scientists tried to determine whether there were differences in the way male and female bodies responded to space flight.
This is a well-known 1969 image of astronaut Buzz Aldrin with Neal Armstrong reflected in his face mask; the lunar module is in the background. This version of the photo is in 3-D. “GAF, the company that made the popular Viewmaster stereo cards, produced this 3-D version for a public thirsty for anything connected with the moonwalk,” White said.
As one of the astronauts on Apollo 16 (April 16-27, 1972), Charles Duke became the 10th man to walk on the moon. While there, he placed a picture of his family on the lunar surface and snapped this photo. According to NASA’s Robert Jacobs, one of the authors of "Apollo: Through the Eyes of the Astronauts," the photo was left on the moon and “the radiation turned the photo brown not long after he left it on the lunar surface.”
Created over a period of almost four months, this photograph shows stars that existed about 13 billion years ago. The Hubble Ultra Deep Field image was made from 11 days of observations by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2004.
Four F-15Es of the 333rd Fighter Squadron, 4th Fighter Wing will fly over Worsham Field to celebrate Hokie football and commemorate the annual reunion of the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets. Considered to be the most advanced operational fighter in the world, the two-seat F-15E is an all-purpose combat aircraft tasked with the Air Superiority and ground attack missions.
Last F-15 Fini Flight 19th Fighter Squadron
The SR-71 Blackbird is a strategic reconnaissance aircraft developed by Lockheed Skunk Works from the Lockheed A-12 and YF-12A. The Blackbird was a huge improvement over its predecessor the U-2 reconnaissance aircraft. The SR-71 could cruise at 3.5 Mach, which is about 3 times faster than the speed of sound, at an altitude above 100,000 feet and has a range of about 4000 miles.
Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird
Created as part of a secret project in the 1980s, the expensive plane is a design executed with the Soviet Union in mind. The Northrop Grumman ATB (Advanced Technology Bomber) was designated the B-2 Spirit after it was chosen over a Lockheed/Rockwell design in 1981. The stealthy bomber was meant to be able to penetrate even the most impregnable anti-aircraft defenses.
The project didn’t turn out quite as expected, though. A redesign from high-altitude to low-altitude mission profile added two years and $1 billion to the project’s cost, bringing the total expenditure up to a reported $23 billion. Furthermore, the dissolution of the Soviet Union resulted in the production being limited to 20 planes—21 if you count an upgraded test bomber.
Reports on the cost of a single B-2 bomber vary from $737 million to $2.2 billion, but the most often cited figure for the most expensive aircraft in the world is $1.3 billion.
B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber
B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber
The "Antonov AN-225 "Mriya" is the world's largest aircraft. It has payload capacity of 250 tonnes and was designed and manufactured at O.K.Antonov ASTC in 1988. Unlike any other commercially available aircraft, the An-225 has the ability to carry external loads of up to 90 tonnes mounted on its "roof rack" also.
The An-225 is now available to ship oversized cargo anywhere in the world. The place was modified to include fuselage barrel extensions and the wings were extended as well. Additional engines were added, bringing the total to six, and a very sophisticated landing system including 32 wheels was also incorporated.
Antonov 225 currently has a maximum gross weight of 1.323 million pounds and can carry either internal cargo weighting up to 550,000 pounds or external cargo weighting up to 440,000 pounds.Antonov An-225 Mriya from Antonov at Ringway
The air plane has a reputation for being able to carry loads that we at one point never would have thought possible to transport by air. The incredible airliner has moved 150 ton generators and locomotives and has played an enormous role in relief efforts around the world because of its ability to deliver such large loads of supplies.
Because the first An-225 was in such high demand, the decision was made in 2006 to pull the second plane out of storage and set it up for completion. As noted above, the design will be slightly different in order to accommodate cargo more effectively but will be able to handle the same types of heavy loads.
The current Antonov 225 has completed dozens of commercial flights as well as those involved in humanitarian efforts. The plane has delivered supplies all over the world, including Iraq, and has been contracted by the United States and Canadian governments. The An-225 even found its way into the Guinness Book of World Records.
While astounding in size, there’s no doubt that the Antonov 225 is one of the most incredible airplanes to ever take flight. Hopefully the completion of the second plane in 2010 will serve to open the doors for additional opportunities, especially as far as humanitarian and relief efforts are concerned.
The History of Aviation, Part 1 of 6
The History of Aviation, Part 2 of 6
The History of Aviation, Part 3 of 6
The History of Aviation, Part 4 of 6
The History of Aviation, Part 5 of 6
The History of Aviation, Part 6 of 6
100 Years of Flight