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From the Editor Aviation History

The century’s last great aeronautical milestone was reached with the vehicle that first got us ‘up there.’

Among the many aviation records set in the last century, the first nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean was a biggie, and that was taken by Captain John Alcock and Lieutenant Arthur Whitten Brown in 1919 in a Vickers Vimy. Then came the one-upsmanship of Charles A. Lindbergh, who, in 1927, did it alone over a far longer distance.

In 1924, U.S. Army Air Service crews in two of four Douglas World Cruisers made it around the world for the first time by air, albeit in several stages. Since then we’ve seen aerial circuits of the globe by others, including a helicopter and Voyager, which became the first aircraft to make the trip without refueling. Round-the-world flights by jet airliner have become a matter of ho-hum routine.

But, try as they might, several aerial adventurers attempted–and failed–to circumnavigate the planet nonstop in a balloon. Then, one round-the-world balloon crew finally did it. Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones in the Breitling Orbiter 3, during the third attempt by this particular sponsor, made aviation history by circling the globe last March without stopping. It was the flight that set the last great aeronautical record of the century. The Fédération Aeronautique Internationale, the world governing body for air sports, awarded the crew three Absolute Ballooning World Records for time, distance and duration.

Few people living at the beginning of the past century could have imagined how many firsts in aviation would take place before 2000. Although today it may seem as though there are few aeronautical records left to be set, perhaps we will one day find out that we were as short-sighted as those who scoffed at the promise of aviation when the last century began.

So what’s next? Is there a ballooning Lindbergh waiting in the wings to upstage the Orbiter 3 flight and grab an even shinier brass ring than Piccard and Jones did last year? Let’s hope that our grandkids’ offspring will enjoy learning about–or perhaps even participating in–the next generation of aeronautical firsts. Amazing accomplishments that we can’t even imagine today are surely still out there waiting to happen.

Is this the century of the lifting fuselage?

One of the promising aeronautical designs that emerged in the last century celebrates an anniversary as we begin a new century. Eighty years ago, Vincent J. Burnelli designed the Lawson airliner, a two-engine biplane with a more or less conventional tube-shaped passenger cabin. Once the design became a reality, however, Lawson decided he did not like the way it had turned out. He was quoted as saying the “fuselage looks like a streetcar with wings–nothing but a dead weight.”

Burnelli’s solution was to make the fuselage carry some of its own weight, so it was no longer a dead weight. The concept has been called variously a lifting body or lifting fuselage. The passenger cabin is shaped like a thicker section of the wing, wider than the usual cigar-shaped airliner fuselage. This means it is possible to fly with less power, and also allows for slower landing and takeoff speeds.

One Burnelli airplane flew as the aircraft of French General Charles de Gaulle during World War II, and another was used as a flying showroom for an Essex automobile. But Burnelli ran into political and other obstacles during production. Although similar designs have surfaced from time to time for cargo haulers, the design just didn’t catch on for airliners.

Maybe this almost-ran from the 1900s will fill a need in the 2000s. You can see what may be the last remaining example as a work in progress at the New England Air Museum in Windsor Locks, Conn.

The Great Warbirds Shootout

In this issue we offer readers a special treat. On March 3, 4 and 5 Aviation History readers can jump into the cockpit of their favorite World War II fighter and do battle in cyberspace with fliers around the globe in The Great Warbirds Shootout. Turn to page 20 for details on how to participate. Then go to our Web site,, and start your training today!

Arthur H. Sanfelici, Editor, Aviation History

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