Time flies

Remember the first moon landing?  That was in 1969, half a century ago.

An actual Lunar Module LM2 on display in the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. This module did not fly into space.

As the Mars rover Perseverance landed on the surface of the red planet last month, it carried a small helicopter. Its purpose is to “test powered flight on another world for the first time.”

Powered flight.

Here on earth that happened 120 years ago, on 17 December 1903.  How time flies!

The Wright brothers’ first flight at Kitty Hawk in North Carolina, United States, with Orville at the controls, lasted 12 seconds. His brother Wilbur ran at the wingtip until the Wright Flyer touched terra firma again short of 40 metres down the track.

Three pioneering aircraft: the Wright Flyer (top), John Glenn’s Mercury Friendship 7 (left) and the Apollo II capsule in the background.

It’s truly astonishing how far aviation has advanced in just more than a century.

In this contribution I share some images from my photographic archives that I captured on 35mm colour slide film at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC more than 20 years ago and at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida even earlier.

Visitors in the National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC. Seen here are the Wright Flyer and the Apollo 11 capsule, also called the Lunar Command Module ‘Columbia’ in which Neil Armstrong and his crew returned to earth.

Charles Lindbergh was the first aviator to cross the Atlantic solo, taking just over 33 hours in 1927 in the single-engined Spirit of St Louis.

Charles Lindbergh’s ‘Spirit of St Louis’ with Chuck Yeager’s Bell X-1 ‘Glamorous Glennis’ in the background.

The supersonic Concorde – sadly now retired – could fly from London to New York in two hours.

Concorde flew at twice the speed of sound.

The intrepid Chuck Yeager was the first to break the sound barrier. He achieved this elusive goal of flying faster than the speed of sound almost 75 years ago – on 14 October 1947 – at Muroc Army Air Field, now Edwards Air Force Base, in the Bell X-1 Glamorous Glennis. He named the plane after his wife. Yeager died last year, aged 97.

The North American X-15 hypersonic aircraft seen from the rear. It is facing towards the Bell X-1 in the background.

But since this remarkable milestone things have really speeded up.

In the 1960s, the US Air Force and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) were testing a high-speed rocket-powered experimental aircraft, the North American X-15. In this arrow-like plane, pilot William J Knight set a record in 1967 that still stands: Mach 6,70 – almost seven times the speed of sound. This was 7 274 km/h or just over 2 000 metres per second!

The aircraft was flying at the edge of outer space – at an altitude of 102 100 feet, about 31 kilometres up in the sky.

Barely two years later, in 1969 – just over half a century ago –  a three-man crew blasted off atop a Saturn V rocket on the Apollo 11 mission towards the moon. On 21 July astronaut Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon’s surface, the first person ever to do so.  His companion Buzz Aldrin joined him a few minutes later.  After some hours during which they performed various tasks including collecting lunar material, they lifted off to rejoin the third crew member, Michael Collins, in the Lunar Command Module, Columbia, that returned them to earth.

The mighty Saturn V rocket used by NASA on its Apollo missions, on display at Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.
A single engine of the Saturn V rocket, which had five such engines to propel astronauts to the moon.
Apollo 11 astronauts were protected by a heat shield, seen here badly burnt upon the capsule’s re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere.

Plans are afoot for a moon base from which we’ll venture further into space, perhaps to inhabit another planet like Mars.

Only time will tell of the new frontiers awaiting us.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Safrea or its members.


2 Responses

  1. The magic of flight. Wonderful memories Sam, not only of that museum and of having seen and experienced what your images portray, but also my days of flying. As a private pilot, I flew mostly the single-engine Piper Cherokee 140. But I was privileged to experience flying in many other aircraft and given the controls. Special among those was the aerobatic Zlin with Nick Turvey (the SA aerobatics champ), and many others very old and quite recent. Another special moment was flying a 737 – – not the real thing but the simulator which is just as real. Nothing approaching Mach 1. Charles Lindbergh, Chuck Yeager and many of those pioneers are among my heros,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *