Archive Gallery: A Century of Aviation, From the Wright Brothers to Stealth

PopSci, December 1953

Earlier this week, the Air Force announced that the X-51 WaveRider, a wingless scramjet, would make its first hypersonic flight. After learning that the scramjet would reach Mach 6, we couldn’t help but reflect on the progress aviation has made in just a century. We’ve combed the archives to build just one of many amazing snapshots of these incredible 100 years.

On December 17, 1903, the Wright Brothers embarked on the first sustained, heavier-than-air, man-powered flight aboard the Wright Flyer. Although they made history that day at Kitty Hawk, people were skeptical of aviation technology’s potential. An article we published in March 1904 examined what the brothers’ feat meant for aviation before concluding that the machines would never develop into commercial carriers. “To say nothing of the danger, the sizes must remain small and the passengers few….navigable balloons and flying machines will constitute a great mechanical triumph for man, but they will not materially upset existing conditions as has sometimes been predicted.”

Well, shame on us, because just over a hundred years later, we’re launching wingless jets and maneuvering zombie satellites. There’s even talk of an electric tethered hovering platform.

Of course, the progression we’ve made in aviation was largely a matter of trial and error. For every legendary fighter jet that soared, there was a sausage plane or a zeppelin that went under. Still, as the content our archives will attest, a little imagination and perseverance went a long way.

Click through the gallery for our favorite airplanes, airships, flying boats, and spaceships.

Sausage Balloon
Giant Aviatik Airplane
Captain Eddie Rickenbacker's Future Airliner
Caproni's Flying Ship
Alexander Graham Bell's Flying Machine
Steam-Propelled Plane
A Home for Zeppelins
Whirring Gyroplanes
The First Rocket Planes
Allied Planes Versus Axis Planes
The Race of the Turbo-Jets
F-100 Super Sabre
Germany's 52-ton Dornier Do-X
Charles Lindbergh and an Amazing Revelation
Boeing's Legendary 747 Debuts
Supersonic Airliners
Werner von Braun Reveals the Space Shuttle
Era of Stealth
Uncle Sam's Zeppelin