Ninety years of commercial flight

Tuesday was the 90th anniversary of the first daily scheduled airline service. By today’s standards it was a pretty modest affair. The aircraft seated a grand total of two alongside packets of mail. But it was a start.

The service ran between Hounslow Heath (near today’s London Heathrow Airport) and Le Bourget, just outside Paris. It was operated by the Aircraft Transport & Travel company run by George Holt-Thomas, and 25 August 1919 saw its inaugural flight. Those first services used planes designed by Geoffrey de Havilland that were bombers converted to include a glazed cabin for the passengers. We’ve a model of the D.H.4 bomber, on which the airliners were based, in our Flight gallery:

Model of a de Havilland D.H.4 aircraft (credit: David Rooney)

Model of a de Havilland D.H.4 aircraft (credit: David Rooney)

And out at Wroughton we’ve got a wooden propellor from a D.H.4 bomber, but I haven’t got a picture, I’m afraid. Instead, here’s a nice atmospheric shot of a later Handley Page aircraft at Paris-Le Bourget in 1930:

Handley Page HP42 at Paris-Le Bourget, 1930s (credit: Science Museum / Science & Society)

Handley Page HP42 at Paris-Le Bourget, 1930s (credit: Science Museum / Science & Society)

In those early days, passengers were reluctant to come forward. The flights were cramped, noisy and slow. In fact, it wasn’t really until pressurised airliners could fly above the weather (after the Second World War) that flying became remotely comfortable.

Fast forward to 2009: we have wide-bodied aircraft seating hundreds; turbo-fan jet engines combining speed with economy; and flights for a pound. But we also have climate-changing emissions, noise pollution and a nagging feeling that maybe the glamour has gone out of flying these days… here’s a great historic slideshow from the BBC.

2 thoughts on “Ninety years of commercial flight

  1. Robert Bud

    My grandfather born in 1892 was a Berlin banker in the early 1920s. At that time he flew from Berlin to London by one of the earliest commercial services. In the 1960s he would reminisce on his experience. By the time he had reached France he was feeling terribly ill. The buffeting in those small planes must have been terrible. Before the next leg to London, the pilot gave him a bottle of whisky which made him both sleepy and vomit immediately. The next leg he had nothing in his stomach and slept. Customer service 1920 style!

    Reply
  2. Pingback: Stories from the stores » Under Azura skies

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