The Tony Jannus Distinguished Aviation Society received a record number of essays from high school students in 2009.  The following composition was anonymously judged by the Society’s Essay Committee and ruled the unanimous winner of the Statewide Essay Contest.

The History of Commercial Aviation

By Kathleen Hencke

Plant City High School

Counselor: Sherrie Mueller

The immense advancements in technology over the past century have not bypassed the field of commercial aviation. Since its beginnings in 1914, commercial aviation has grown from a dubious experiment into a prominent industry. This novel machinery has broken international barriers and allows the entire world a level of communication previously unfathomed. Florida has seen multiple advancements in this field through the entrepreneurship and creativity of its citizens. This groundbreaking innovation has not only benefited international communication and security, but has also boosted the economy through the countless jobs it has provided. Commercial aviation pioneered the technological lives we lead today.

The very first commercial flight dates back to nearly a hundred years ago, when Tony Jannus flew 23 minutes in the small Benoist “flying boat” for the St. Petersburg -Tampa Airboat line on January 1, 1914. Ever since, commercial aviation has expanded into one of the most profitable industries the world has ever seen. Though its start was slow, it mushroomed after the flight of Charles Lindberg in 1927, when the world became fascinated with the idea of flight and began investing in its ventures. This allowed commercial aviation the financial backing it needed to succeed. The modern aspects we associate with commercial airlines began in the late 1920’s, early 1930’s. For example, stewards began their service in the late 1920’s in an effort to calm passengers. There were no women, however, until 1930 when Boeing began hiring female stewardesses. They acted as nurses in cases of emergency and hostesses during the rest of the ride, doing whatever made the passengers feel more at ease with their flight. “Frequent flyer” rewards also began in the form of “scrips,” which were booklets of pre-paid paper allowing its owner to pay for plane tickets with them. Those who purchased these, almost like buying tickets in bulk, were able to get their tickets slightly discounted.

During this time period, we also began to see advancements in the aircraft used. In 1936, the DC-3 began transporting passengers in a more comfortable and convenient manner than ever before. By 1940, the majority of commercial flights were performed with Douglas DC-3s.  This significant invention revolutionized the commercial airline industry, and is still used, though on a smaller scale, to this day. The DC-3 was more comfortable, faster, and could travel longer without refueling than any of its predecessors. For this invention, we have C.R. Smith to thank in part. As the first president of American Airlines, he contracted Douglas to build a new plane with specific requirements of increased amounts of space as well as increased speed capabilities. Without this specific request, and the promise to buy 20 of these new planes, Douglas almost certainly would not have built this vital step in the aircraft industry’s development. This was the first plane able to earn profit on solely passenger sales, rather than a combination of selling tickets and getting mail contracts. Smith can also be credited with his entrepreneurial investment in the Boeing 707 more than 15 years later. The first domestic transcontinental jet service can be credited to American Airlines under C.R. Smith, who invested in the unknown Boeing company rather than the trusted Douglas. Smith’s brazen decisions for his company allowed American Airlines to build and maintain a reputation as one of the world’s most influential commercial airlines. The very same plane, the Boeing 707, was also used by Pan American Airlines in 1959 for the first intercontinental flight service. Boeing continued its innovative designs, most recognizably with the Boeing 747 in 1970. Fittingly nicknamed the “Jumbo Jet,” the Boeing 747 was the first wide-body plane the world ever saw. The advancements in the commercial aircraft industry have dramatically increased over the past century, but have certainly not slowed. Airbus and Boeing currently dominate the jetliner industry, and the next breakthrough by either company could be just around the corner.

Modern commercial aviation has developed through the efforts of many aeronautical innovators, many of whom were tied to Florida. The sunny weather and flat terrain of Florida make it perfect for flying, so it is no wonder Florida had so much to contribute to the commercial aviation industry. The first commercial flight, for example, was flown from St. Petersburg, Florida, to Tampa, Florida in 1914 by Tony Jannus. The next role Florida played in commercial aviation was the result of its strategic peninsular location. Inglis Uppercu began an international commercial flight business from Florida to Cuba. He later expanded to include the Bahamas, New York, and parts of the Midwest. He used his Aeromarine Airways as a successful business until 1923 when one of its planes crashed as the result of a failed engine. Florida is also home to what began as the Embry-Riddle School of Aviation, and is now Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. This school serves as a pilot training school and remains as one of the most prestigious aviation schools in America, training commercial pilots, aeronautical engineers, and any other aviation related job. This school allows Florida to continually provide aptly qualified pilots to the commercial industry.

An industry this intricate and immense has undoubtedly affected many, if not most, aspects of our lives. This includes the job industry, as the growth of commercial aviation has lead to the development of countless job opportunities, both directly and indirectly the result of the aviation industry. The most obvious new jobs created by this industry would be ones like of pilot, stewardess, and navigators. We now need Air Traffic Control because of the increase in commercial aviation. Any jobs in an airport, from janitor to ticket collector, are the direct result of the expansion of commercial aviation. These are only the beginning of the butterfly effect commercial aviation had on the job market, though. The small snacks given out on planes now had to be manufactured, meaning the snack industry expanded. These new planes had to be designed, creating the post of aeronautical engineer. These new engineers had to be taught what to do, expanding the educational profession to include aerospace teachers. Producing more planes meant using more aluminum, so jobs in the aluminum refinery business increased. The list of jobs affected by the commercial aircraft industry is endless, as this giant corporation has integrated itself into our society to the point that it affects every aspect of our economy.

Our world without commercial aviation would show an entirely different picture than what we now see. Though it has been a gradual process, this innovative field has grown from the expensive, unprofitable movement of a handful of people across a bay to the multimillion-dollar transportation of hundreds of people on a single aircraft from one continent to the next. What started as one man’s dream of flight has now become a reality produced by the many dedicated enthusiasts affecting more than three generations of the world.

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