History of Civil Aviation

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Civil aviation came about after World War one when pioneers explored new uses for aircraft, before that aircraft were only used for war purposes. In 1908 the British army developed aircraft, a few years before in 1904 J. E. Cooper, from the British war office, visited the Wright Brothers. His aim was to bring back information and skills on aircraft. This did not happen because the Wright brothers asked for $100,000 for the method of aircraft and a further $100,000 for the formulae and theoretical knowledge. The war office was unwilling to pay this amount.

Later, during the First World War, the aeroplane matured rapidly. Aeroplanes had to stand up to the war time maintenance. Although the Bi planes of 1918 resembled pre war types they were tougher faster and more capable. There was enormous expansion of production before 1918, with there being just over 100 million aircraft. Also by 1918 there were 32,000 companies forming the British aviation industry. The main companies were Avro, Bristol, de Havilland, Hawter, Rolls Royce, Handley-Page and Vickers.

The daring flights of “aerial adventurers” showed that aeroplanes were an increasingly practical means of transport and pioneered routes that would eventually be used by registered airline services. Fairs were very expensive and used by tycoons, politicians and film stars. All metal construction and smooth streamlined exteriors gave higher speeds and lower fuel consumption.

Handley-Page aeroplanes were of the first to have aeroplanes flying on a fast transport route of London-Paris. Fledging Royal Air Force set up a communication wing, to provide this fast transport service. The route was for government officials attending the Peace Conference. They flew mostly in D.H.4s, 4As and a bit later, Handley Page 0/400 twin-engined bombers. The 10th January 1919, was the start of cross-channel air services, claimed modified ‘Silver Star’ carried the first non-military passengers and also made the first passenger night flight across the channel.

Founded in 1916, Aircraft Transport and Travel was one of the first commercial operations companies. Even though it was founded so early, they had to wait for the return of peace and also for Government permission. Finally, when all was ready, Hounslow established a civil customs airport, quite near the current London Heathrow airport. Scheduled services started in 1919 on 25th August. A de Havilland took off with four passengers, at 12.40 on the first scheduled London-Paris flight.

The second British airline to be formed was Handley Page Transport, on 14th June 1919. On the 25th August, in one of Handley Page’s 0/400’s aeroplanes, also flew London-Paris with journalists. Shortly after on September 2nd, regular Paris services began. Handley Page also founded a London-Brussels service, 23rd September 1919, and a London-Amsterdam service, 6th July 1920, even though, so called ‘rival’ Aircraft Transport and Travel, begun their London-Amsterdam service on 17th May 1920, with Dutch KLM.

Soon after, British companies found themselves competing with one another, also with sub-sized continental companies for very limited traffic. 28th February 1921, saw all British air services being halted because of a lack of finance. A few years later on March 31st 1924, the government set up a national airline, Imperial Airways. It had £1 million capital and a guaranteed subsidy of £1 million spread over ten years. The airline, in turn, took over both Aircraft Transport and Travel and Handley Page’s airline operations and their fleets along with Daimler Airway and the Instone Airline for the opening of services on 26th April.

Most of the aircraft used by pioneer British airlines were of two families; Airco and Handley Page. Airport Transport and Travel chose de Havilland designs because of close associations with Airco. Converted D.H.4s two seat bombers became D.H.4As with two passenger seats which had a hinged cover with windows. Aircraft...
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