10 Tragic Facts From The Dawn Of Aviation

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For thousands of years, man has been eager to take to the skies and reach for the stars. From the days of hot air balloons all the way to stepping foot on the Moon, human beings have accomplished glorious feats, achieving more than one has ever envisioned. But such success required not only great courage and skill but enormous sacrifice that paved the way for modern aviation. The following 10 cases are not only the first of their kind but detail unfortunate events that ended tragically while attempting to make an imprint on history.

Featured image credit: David Erickson



10Yuan Huangtou


Photo credit: Dr. Richard Neuhauss

The first recorded use for a planar surface flight occurred in the year 559 AD in China when a young prince by the name of Yuan Huangtou of Ye soared more than 2.5 kilometers (1.5 mi) while strapped to a man-made kite. Those who had witnessed the event were left in astonishment, bewildered that something that had been built by man could carry a human through the air for such a long distance.

Unfortunately for Yuan Huangtou, it was not an experiment of his choosing. The young prince had been imprisoned and was used as a test rat along with 17 other prisoners. The men were harnessed to thick bamboo mats against their will and ordered to jump off the Tower of the Golden Phoenix.

Many believe the act was more of a botched execution as opposed to an experimental simulated flight as 17 of the prisoners fell to their deaths. However, as Yuan leaped from the tower, to everyone’s amazement, he glided over the city wall and out into the countryside. Unfortunately, he was unable to free himself from the harness upon landing and was soon recaptured and executed.

9Tullamore, Ireland


Photo credit: Watteau de Lille

Perhaps the dawn of aviation truly began on December 1, 1783, when the first manned hydrogen balloon was launched in Paris by Professor Jacques Charles and the Robert brothers. Their flight lasted two hours and five minutes and sparked worldwide interest in aviation, paving the way for Jean-Pierre Blanchard to be the first man to fly across the English Channel on January 7, 1785. However, every new creation entails trial and error which would lead to the very first air disaster in aviation history on Tuesday, May 10, 1785.

That year, the citizens of Ireland had only just become familiar with air balloons and considered it a novel spectacle in which towns would gather to watch in admiration as people took to the skies. On that fateful day in May, the townspeople of Tullamore watched in horror as a hot-air balloon collided with a household chimney during a town fair, becoming engulfed in flames and setting fire to more than 100 homes.

Some bystanders were scorched and burned during the carnage. Despite the townspeople’s effort to extinguish the fire, it could not be put out, leading to the destruction of Patrick Street, the town’s most populated and main trading area. The horrific event will live on in Ireland as being one of the worst disasters in Tullamore as well as the world’s very first air disaster.

8Thomas Etholen Selfridge

8a-selfridge-crash copy

Photo credit: C.H.Claudy

Thomas Etholen Selfridge was a young lieutenant who made history for becoming not the only the first military officer to fly solo but also the first person to die in a crash of a powered airplane. After graduating from the US Military Academy at West Point, New York, Selfridge joined the Aerial Experimental Association (AEA) as an observer for the United States government.



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