|First flight of the Wright Flyer, 1903|
Lets's start at the very beginning and look at Orville and Wilbur Wright's very first flying machine. Although it is not even close to comparing to the worst of modern day aircraft, it showed us that man could get off the ground and fly like a bird, thus in my opinion, ranking up among the most important aircraft in history, but certainly not the greatest flying machine ever built. The same goes for things like the F-61 helicopter flown all those years ago. Then if you want to talk about airships, let's just say they're a bit too slow for me!
Let's take a look at some more..
The Bell X-1
|The Bell X-1|
The Bell X-1 will go down in history as the first aircraft flown by man to travel faster than the speed of sound. On October 14 1947, Air Force General Chuck Yeager flew the X-1 to a speed of 800mph(Mach 1.07) to become the first human to fly faster than the speed of sound. Just like many of the most famous aircraft ever built, it proved a point, showing us that we could now fly faster than the sound barrier, and since then, we have sought to fly harder and faster on every flight.
In NASA's earliest days, before the nation's first astronauts were even selected, a group of twelve pilots found themselves soaring to previously unimaginable heights while flying the famous X-15 rocket plane. Neil Armstrong, the first man on the Moon, an X-15 pilot himself, and a man fascinated with flight since he was a little boy, was always fond of the X-15. In the words of Armstrong; "Rockets were powering aircraft to higher and higher speeds. The X-15 had enough energy to zoom to altitudes above the atmosphere". It seems like this magical aircraft can get the first man on the Moon pretty excited. But that's the beauty of it! This particular flying machine was not your average plane. It couldn't even take off on a runway for crying out loud! It had to be taken up attached to the wing of a B-52 bomber and then simply dropped. Don't worry it didn't just glide back to Earth- here's the exciting part! Not long after being dropped from the B-52, the X-15's rocket engine would ignite and send both pilot and aircraft up to altitudes over 100km. If you have never seen the launch and landing of an X-15, I suggest you watch this. You can come to your own conclusions after watching it. I just think it was a magnificent flying machine and what I've written doesn't even come close to summing up how awesome the X-15 really was.
The Saturn V
At a height of 363 feet tall, the Saturn V is the largest and most powerful launch vehicle ever built. Everyone's familiar with the sight of the Saturn lifting off Pad 39-A during the Apollo 11 mission- just by looking at it in photos you can tell that this thing has a whole lot a muscle! Without the Saturn V, we may still live in a world where man hasn't walked on the Moon. This flying machine was flown on all the Apollo missions and will go down in history for this very reason. It is probably one of the most standout images that appears in people's minds when you mention space exploration. This may not be a good reason to award it the title of the greatest flying machine ever built, but without this amazing launch vehicle, you can't help but feel history books would be a lot different than they are today.
The Apollo Lunar Excursion Model(LEM)
|The LEM in lunar orbit|
Like most of the flying machines mentioned so far on this list, the Concorde is no longer in service. However, a lot of people(including myself) feel it should still be flying. Now I have never flown on the Concorde- I'm only 16 years old, but I can understand how beautiful and commercially important this supersonic aircraft really was. Concorde could fly from London to New York in three hours, travelling at twice the speed of sound. This means that a businessman from North London could finish a meeting in Manhattan at midday and be back at home in time for tea. But looking at the aircraft itself, I mean come on- it looks perfect! The wings accompanying the narrow fuselage give the Concorde such a slick finish, ultimately allowing it to fly at Mach 2. Concorde pretty much was your ideal commercial aircraft, What a dream it must have been to fly!
The Space Shuttle
For NASA Flight Director Gene Kranz, "The space shuttle is the greatest flying machine that NASA has ever built". Now this is a man who has worked with the space agency since Project Mercury, and has no doubt witnessed some great air and spacecraft in his time, and he thinks that the space shuttle is the greatest flying machine man has ever built? I have to agree with him on this one.
|Space Shuttle Discovery Launches on STS-120 from KSC.|
Over the course of its 135 missions, two orbiters and their crews have been lost on the path of exploring space. However, we must go on. Now that that the shuttle fleet has been retired, I have to say I miss seeing it fly. In fact, watching Atlantis landing at KSC for the final time really is what got me so enthusiastic about spaceflight. Here I saw one of the greatest space programmes coming to an end, but I knew that a new one is right around the corner. Looking at those pictures of Atlantis on the runway made me sad I have to say(I can't imagine how the astronauts must feel), but not because people would no longer be launching from US soil. Astronauts will fly from the US in a couple of years, and I'm really excited about that. However the thing that really disappointed me was knowing that this beautiful spaceship and remarkable flying machine would never leave Earth again.
Never before has a craft been able to escape the surly bonds of our Earth, orbit the planet every ninety minutes or so, build and visit space stations, conduct science in a microgravity environment, and then make a pinpoint landing on a runway nearly three miles long. Is that cool or what? If you have not had the pleasure of watching a video of a space shuttle landing, I suggest you check this out!
|The Space Shuttle in Orbit|