The Golden Age of Aviation
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The Golden Age of Aviation

Aviation’s Golden Age began with Charles Lindbergh’s Atlantic flight in June, 1927 and ended twenty years later in Long Beach Harbor with the short flight of Howard Hughes’ giant flying boat, the "Spruce Goose."
It was a period of record-breaking flights, the first commercially-viable airliners and major advances in aeronautics. But more than any of these accomplishments, the age was dominated by single individuals who through vision, courage and skill transformed aviation from a barnstorming curiosity to one of the great industries of the twentieth century.

Charles Lindbergh Lindbergh’s flight ignited the public’s imagination like few other events this century. To span the North Atlantic by air was incredible. To do it alone in a tiny single-engine airplane flown by a shy pilot from the midwest, a pilot who had never even seen the ocean before, was almost unimaginable.
Later, in the 1930s Lindbergh flew and charted air routes across the North and South Atlantic and the northern Pacific for the early airlines. His wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, flew with him on these survey flights and as a gifted writer published her diaries describing their flights as well as the tragedy of the kidnapping and murder of their first child. Her books, Listen! The Wind and North To The Orient are two of the finest pieces of aviation literature ever written.
As war approached, Lindbergh was invited by the Nazis to inspect the German air industry, including the Luftwaffe. Lindbergh was impressed, some say duped, by the Nazis and argued strongly for non-intervention. Angering Roosevelt, the President forbid him from serving in a military role once war broke out. Lindbergh then contributed to the war effort as a civilian, training pilots and even flying fighter missions in the South Pacific.

Amelia Earhart Next to Lindbergh the most famous name in early aviation for most people is Amelia Earhart. Earhart was the first woman to fly the Atlantic - as a passenger - on a 1928 promotional flight conceived by publisher George Putnam. Putnam had rushed out We, Charles Lindbergh's autobiography, only a month after his record flight. Seeing that the public craved more, Putnam found and recruited Earhart for one of aviation's first staged media events.
The flight was successful and Putnam promoted Earhart and her book, 20 Hrs. and 40 Mins., aggressively. Earhart and Putnam were married three years later in 1931. In 1932, Earhart was the first woman to cross the Atlantic solo in a 2,026 mile flight from Newfoundland to Ireland. The flight, along with Putnam's shrewd promotion, assured Earhart's reputation.
Earhart set numerous legitimate speed and distance records through the mid-thirties, including the first person to fly solo from Hawaii to California. Nine years after her first record flight over the North Atlantic, she and Fred Noonan, her navigator, disappeared over the South Pacific during her famous 1937 around-the-world flight. No definitive trace has ever been found of her last flight.

Wiley Post Perhaps aviation's most impressive personal achievement in the 1930's was the one-eyed Wiley Post's second around-the-world flight. Post and navigator Harold Gatty had set the around-the-world record in 1931 at 8 days, 15 hours and 51 minutes. Two years later, Post, flying solo in his Lockheed Vega, Winnie Mae, beat his earlier record by 21 hours. Post fought Atlantic fog, Russian thunderstorms, equipment problems and his own fatigue to set the incredible record. Five years later, it took Howard Hughes flying a twin-engined Lockheed with a crew of four to beat the one-eyed pilot's record.
Post was fascinated by high-altitude flight and reached an unofficial altitude of 55,000 feet in 1934. His flights pioneered the use of high-altitude flight suits, superchargers and pressurized ignition systems for stratospheric flight.
Early in 1935, Post and fellow Oklahoman, Will Rogers, planned a leisurely around-the-world flight. Post elected to fly a modified Lockheed Orion, rather than his beloved Winnie Mae. Both were killed departing Point Barrow, Alaska when the engine quit shortly after take-off.

Roscoe Turner Colonel Roscoe Turner was the most colorful aviator of the period. Wearing a uniform of his own design consisting of a powder-blue tweed coat, Sam Browne belt, beige riding breeches and shiny boots all topped off with a white silk scarf and military cap. Flying as a movie stunt pilot in the late twenties, Turner proposed that the Gilmore Oil Company promote its products using a special Lockheed racing plane. Since the company's trademark was a lion's head, Turner acquired a five month old lion cub, named it Gilmore and flew with it as a mascot. Together they set several transcontinental speed records.
They flew together for years until the lion, at 500 pounds, was just too much payload. Turner set Gilmore up in a special exhibit at the Burbank airport and later in a private zoo paying for his upkeep for over 25 years.

Jimmy Doolittle In 1929 "Jimmy" Doolittle made the first completely blind take-off and landing proving the practicality of instrument flight. Doolittle was unique in aviation with a doctorate degree in aeronautics from MIT, but his piloting feats eclipsed his scientific work. In 1942, he organized and led the raid on Tokyo made famous by the book and movie, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo. The raid consisted of sixteen B-25 medium bombers launched from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet. Ten years earlier he won the Thompson Air Trophy flying the highly-advanced Gee Bee Racer, one of the few pilots in the thirties to have raced these planes and survived.
Having pioneered instrument flight in the twenties, raced the most dangerous planes in the thirties, and commanded the most challenging war missions in the forties, he died peacefully in 1995.

Howard Hughes Howard Hughes inherited a fortune based on the rotary drill bit. He died a lonely hermit in 1976, a prisoner of mental illness, drugs and his Mormon aides. But in the thirties he and his aircraft broke every major speed and distance record. The custom-built Hughes H-1 Racer set the landplane speed record in 1935 at 352 miles per hour easily outperforming even the fastest military planes of the time. In July, 1938 he and a crew of four flying a Lockheed Lodestar broke the around-the-globe record set by Wiley Post in 1933. Two years later, Hughes was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for the flight.
During the war Hughes and Henry Kaiser contracted to build a huge flying seaplane to transport troops and equipment from America to Europe by air above the reach of German submarines. Kaiser soon backed out of the contract, but Hughes persevered even as the war ended. Years behind schedule, Hughes spent millions of his own money to finish the plane. Finally, in November, 1947, when challenged by a Congressional Committee that the plane would never fly, Hughes flew it himself. The plane never climbed out of ground effect. Realizing that it was grossly under-powered, Hughes permanently hangared the plane, never to be seen again until after his death almost thirty years later.

Two weeks earlier, Air Force Captain Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier flying the Bell X-1. Aviation, now too complex and expensive for individuals alone, had passed into the hands of government and industry.

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