Powered flight is a relatively recent pursuit, with the first controlled heavier-than-air powered flight occurring in Fairfield, Connecticut, by Gustave Whitehead, on 14 August 1901, predating the Wright Brothers’ flight at Kitty Hawk by over two years. Whitehead’s engine-powered plane, with long, hawk-like glider wings, flew over 800 meters at an altitude of 15 meters, according to sworn affadavits signed by 15 attendees of the historic powered flight. Also according to witness reports, (but without sworn affadavits) Whitehead flew over 1 km (over half a mile) in Pittsburgh as early as 1899. This would place the first milestone of heavier-than-air powered flight in the 19th century rather than the 20th. Two modern replicas of Whitehead’s “Number 22” plane have flown successfully.
The better-publicized efforts of the Wright Brothers culminated in the world- famous Kitty Hawk flights at Kill Devil Hills in North Carolina on 17 December 1903. These flights are regarded by the Smithsonian Institution and the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI) as the first sustained, controlled, heavier-than-air manned powered flight, despite the earlier flight by Whitehead, which was not well publicized until the Wright Brothers’ fame was already ensured. In their simply designed Wright Flyer, Orville Wright flew 120 ft (37 m) in 12 seconds in the morning, following up with several more flights, including a fourth flight that covered 852 ft (260 m) in 59 seconds. All the flights were accompanied by an abrupt and unattended “landing,” caused by gusts acting on the early attempt at a flying machine.
Heaver-than-air aviation was all the rage in the first decade of the 20th century, with various inventors making claims, verified or otherwise, of short flights. Lyman Gilmore, for instance, claimed to have successfully flown a plane on 15 May 1902, but there are no witnesses. New Zealand farmer and inventor Richard Pearse supposedly constructed a monoplane aircraft that flew on 31 March, 1903, almost nine months before the Wright brothers flight. In 1904 and 1905, the Wright brothers conducted a further 150 flights at Huffman Prairie in Dayton, Ohio, inviting friends and family to attend. Due to a failed public flight attempt in May 1904, representatives of the media did not attend these later flights.
The history of powered flight experienced a major boost during World War I (1914-1918), when planes were used extensively in war by both the Allies and Central Powers. At first, it was considered ludicrous to use planes for warfare, but they ended up being adopted, first for reconnaissance, but soon for actual assaults.