Noted the occasion of the hundredth anniversary of the Wright brothers’ first successful powered flight today.
While it’s certainly a cause for celebration, it seems to me that advances in aviation tapered off in the second half of the twentieth century, or at least in terms of the usual metrics: speed, altitude, range, etc. Case and point: by 1953, we had jet-powered aircraft, had achieved supersonic flight, and jet aircraft that could cross the oceans non-stop. Fifty years later we’ve not pushed those boundaries much further, something evident when you consider that some planes built around 1953 are still in service today. Comparing 1953 to 1903 the advances made during that period seem much greater.
I suppose there’s something to be said for other metrics: for example, over the past fifty years air transport has become much more available to the public, as would be shown by statistics (if I could only find them) on the number of people traveling by air, number of airports, miles flown, etc. Still, such advances aren’t anywhere as glamorous… I feel we’re overdue to take the “next big step up” in aviation. What form will it take? Inexpensive space planes? Hypersonic air travel? Time will tell.