Aviation - A Made in the USA Success Story

USA Leads From the First Flight

Ever since the first powered flight by the Wright brothers in 1903 the United States has lead the world in aviation technology and production. There are few industries where USA products have enjoyed such a long and fruitful run.

USA Aviation Pioneers

Samuel Pierpont Langley (Roxbury, Massachusetts), the Wright brothers (Dayton, OH) and Glen Curtis (Hammondsport, New York) all made significant contributions to the first generation of powered flying machines.

Golden Age

Two of the most iconic figures of aviation, Charles Lindbergh (Detroit, Michigan) and Amelia Earhart (Atchison, Kansas) set numerous distance records during the 1920's an 30's. Jimmy Doolittle (Alameda, California) pioneered instrument flying in 1929 and would later orchastrate the famous Doolittle Raid on Japan in 1942. Doolittle was one of the most influential figures in all of aviation history.

World War II

The second world war created an unprecidented demand for aircraft. Production demands brought thousands of women into the workforce for the first time. American industry produced approximately 300,000 military aircraft between 1940 and 1945. The war effort trained thousands of pilots, aviation engineers and assembly workers, laying the foundation for a new industry that would be dominated by american companies for more than 60 years.

Post War General Aviation Boom

The years immediately following World War II were transformational for manufacturers of small aircraft. Three companies emerged as leaders, Beech (Wichita, Kansas), Cessna (Wichita, Kansas) and Piper (Vero Beach, Florida). And 60+ years later those companies are still in business and still producing aircraft that are delivered to airports all over the world.

More recently, Cirrus Design (Duluth, Minnesota) has emerged as the leading manufacturer of high performance single engine aircraft. The popular four-place SR-20 and SR-22 models feature composite construction and an innovative parachute system.

The popular engines powering these aircraft are made by Lycoming (Williamsport, Pennsylvania) and Continental (Mobile, Alabama). Both of these companies are still in business and continue to make engines for new airplanes.

Jet Airliners

United States companies dominated the jet airliner market for decades. Today Boeing is the only U.S. company still making airliners. Lockheed (Burbank, California) produced the L-1011 between 1968 and 1984. McDonnell Douglas (St. Louis, Missouri) made the popular DC-9 and MD-80 series of aircraft. Boeing (Seattle, Washington) produced the sucessful "7" series including the 707, 727, 737, 747, 757, 767 and 777 airliners.

The Expirimental and Homebuilt Movement

The expirimental movement is something unquily american and has shaped the aviation landscape from the roots up. The Experimental Aircraft Association Oshkosh, WI), EAA, has been the beacon organization behind the success of amature built aircraft. Under FAA sanctioned rules, individuals can build their own airplanes. Some of the amature built aircraft are one of a kind works of art, others become industries onto themselves, such as the popular RV series of aircraft from made by Vans Aircraft (Aurora, Oregon) - more than 5000 RVs now flying.

Burt Rutan of Scaled Composites (Mojave, CA) has re-written the rules on what is possible and practicle in aircraft design and construction. Some of Rutan's best known aircraft include the VariEze, Voyager and SpaceShipOne.

Avionics Steps Into the 21st Century

For decades there was little advancement in avionics found in small airplanes. From the 1960's through the early 1990's a well equiped aircraft would have 2 Nav Comm radios, an ADF and a DME. The most popular manufacturers of avionics during this period were all U.S. companies - Aircraft Radio Corporation (Boonton, New Jersey), Collins (Cedar Rapids, Iowa), King Radio (Olathe, Kansas) and Narco (Ft. Washington, Pennsylvania). A testimate to their quality, thousands of radios made by these companies still see daily service some 30 years later.

In 1989 Gary Burrell and Min Kao founded Garmin in Olathe, Kansas. Garmin's early focus was to incorporate the then new GPS technology into navigation radios for aviation and marine markets. Products from Garmin quickly eclipsed those from King and Narco. One of the most popular avionics series of all time, the Garmin 430/530 radios have been installed in tens of thousands of small airplanes. These radios combine a navigation and communication radio with a GPS and map screen into a single box.

The practicle capabilities of small aircraft has increased by an order of magnitude due to following avionics inovations: GPS, near-time XM weather, reliable autopilots and engine monitors.

Editor's Note. In this article we have used the traditional brand names for companies some of which have been through a number of aquitions. We believe that 50 years from now these brand names will still be in common use while parent company prefixes will change from time to time.