Today, October 17th, marks the 100th anniversary of the first ever airplane flight over Wichita, KS.
Some of you may be saying 'so what?', but I promise this is significant.
You see, the pilot of that first flight was none other than Clyde Vernon Cessna, a man whose last name should sound familiar to you.
Yes, Clyde Cessna is indeed the founder of Cessna Aircraft Company, producer of the largest fleet of general aviation aircraft in the world.
In January of 1911, Clyde witnessed flight for the first time at an air circus in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. As with many other people, he was inspired by the sight of airplanes overhead, except he saw it as a business opportunity: pilots were raking in cash from admission to the air circus, and Clyde wanted a piece of it. He left for New York to work t the Queen Aeroplane Company, helping to build Bleriot Type XI replicas to learn everything he could about building aircraft. He then purchased a Bleriot replica for $7500 and returned to Enid, OK with it.
Clyde made some modifications to the airplane and named it Silver Wings, and began trying to learn to fly. As with many other early aviators, he has plenty of failure before success, but eventually he managed to fly successfully. Over the next few years, Clyde continued to modify his airplane and improve it, all while flying in demonstrations.
Eventually, a few redesigns and 2 years later, Clyde arrived in Wichita for a display, and on October 17th, 1913 he took to the skies over downtown Wichita at 4000 feet, becoming the first aviator to accomplish the feat.
But what makes Wichita significant? Well, skipping over some history to keep this short, after WWI Wichita promoted aviation, a genius move. A few airplane companies began popping up, most notably the Travel Air Company. This was basically a dream team of early aviators: Lloyd Stearman, Walter Beech, Clyde Cessna. For 2 years they worked together producing fairly advanced and successful aircraft. In 1927, Clyde began to push for a cantilevered wing, a wing with no struts or braces. Such a design had never been done, and Travel Air wasn't about to do it. Beech insisted that Clyde not give up on his dream, so Clyde broke off, founded the Cessna Aircraft Company, and produced the world's first cantilevered monoplane
(Clyde Cessna is 12th from the right)
The rest, as they say, is history. Stearman and Beech both eventually split from Travel Air, Stearman as you know began producing some really nice biplanes before being acquired by Boeing, Beech founded Beechcraft which is still producing airplanes in Wichita today.
Wichita is still going strong, producing aircraft for the world. It's commonly referred to as the 'Air Capital of the World', a statement that still holds true. Cessna, Beechcraft, and Learjet all produce new airplanes right here in Wichita; Spirit Aerospace builds fuselage sections for Boeing.
What began as a short, 16 minute flight over Wichita turned into one of the most significant American industries, one that often gets overlooked or forgotten as a prime example of American ingenuity. Clyde Cessna's vision of aviation as a business led to the company in his name developing famous aircraft such as the Cessna 172, the most widely produced aircraft in history, by a large margin.
86 years after it's founding, Cessna is still going strong producing one of the most diverse product lines in the world, ranging from that famous 172 to the fastest new production aircraft available to civilians, the Citation X
So today, if you look up in the sky and see a Cessna, take a moment to imagine what it must have been like for Wichitans 100 years ago today, and appreciate the rich history that is aviation.
JayhawkJake is an aviation enthusiast and aerospace engineer. He also really dislikes writing about himself in third person, so he's going to stop there