Aviation began in the 18th century with the development of the hot air balloon. Some of the most significant advancements in aviation technology came with the controlled gliding flying of Otto Lilienthal in 1896; then a large step in significance came with the construction of the first powered aeroplane by the Wright brothers in the early 1900s. Only a decade later, at the start of World War I, heavier-than-air powered aircraft had become practical for reconnaissance, artillery spotting, and even attacks against ground positions.
During the 1920s and 1930s, great progress was made in the field of aviation, including the first transatlantic flight of Alcock and Brown in 1919, Charles Lindbergh‘s solo transatlantic flight in 1927, and Charles Kingsford Smith‘s transpacific flight the following year. One of the most successful designs of this period was the Douglas DC-3, which became the first airliner to be profitable carrying passengers exclusively, starting the modern era of passenger airline service.
Since that time, aviation has been technologically revolutionized by the introduction of the jet which permitted a major form of transport throughout the world.
By the 1950s, the development of civil jets grew, beginning with the de Havilland Comet, though the first widely used passenger jet was the Boeing 707, because it was much more economical than other aircraft at that time.
Since the 1960s composite material airframes and quieter, more efficient engines have become available, and Concorde provided supersonic passenger service for more than two decades, but the most important lasting innovations have taken place in instrumentation and control. The arrival of solid-state electronics, the Global Positioning System, satellite communications, and increasingly small and powerful computers and LED displays, have dramatically changed the cockpits of airliners.
On June 21, 2004, SpaceShipOne became the first privately funded aircraft to make a spaceflight, opening the possibility of an aviation market capable of leaving the Earth’s atmosphere. Meanwhile, flying prototypes of aircraft powered by alternative fuels, such as ethanol, electricity, and even solar energy, are becoming more common.