The 'Golden Twenties' saw humankind rediscover a sense of purpose and ambition. Despite the financially unpredictable times, the budding aviation industry made significant progress. The earliest commercial airlines were founded, engineers developed aircraft that could fly in adverse weather conditions across continents and a new age of international communication was born.
Pioneering flightsOpening new routes1921
Known as the ‘Golden Twenties’ or ‘Roaring Twenties’, the decade saw an economic boom following World War I, and gave rise to several cultural trends including jazz, Art Deco and flappers. It also saw the larger-scale adoption of technology which is now part of everyday life, including cars and phones, as well as the advent of television, with the first working TV system demonstrated by John Logie Baird in 1926.
Junkers G 24
Luft Hansa used two Junkers G 24 aircraft to explore a possible East Asian route, completing the first long distance flight from Berlin to Beijing via Moscow and Siberia. (above photo: a Swedish G 24)
Dornier Komet III
In stark contrast to modern-day airframe testing, the high-winged Dornier Komet underwent loads trials by simply having two rows of people (one standing, one seated) along the wingspan. The group was always accompanied by a doctor and a priest! This aircraft was successfully used for commercial operations by Deutscher Aero Lloyd and established by Deutsche Luft Hansa in 1926. In 1925 a Komet III was also the first commercial aircraft to cross the Alps on the Munich – Milan route.
Dornier Do X
With 12 engines, it was the biggest flying boat of its time. The Do X epitomized the exclusivity and luxury of flying, even having its own china dinner service. In 1929 it carried 169 people, a record it held in the civil sector until the late 1950s.
Charles Lindbergh’s grandson, Erik Lindbergh, commemorated the 75th anniversary of his grandfather’s flight in 2002, retracing the journey in his own single-engine aircraft, dubbed 'The New Spirit of St. Louis'. He completed the flight from New York to Paris in roughly half the time of the original.
Dornier Do J Wal
Envisioned and designed by Claude Dornier, the Dornier Wal was the first flying boat with an all-metal central hull. Due to the strict terms of the Treaty of Versailles – which limited aeronautic activities in Germany – the production and the test flights for the first model of the Dornier Do J Wal were transferred from the Friedrichshafen factory to Italy.
Messerschmitt M 17
The M 17 was the first powered aircraft built by Willy Messerschmitt in Bamberg in 1925. It was a two-seater made almost completely of wood and weighed only 198 kg. The greatest achievement of this light aircraft, however, was its sensational flight from Bamberg to Rome, which was done in several stages in September 1926.
Claude Dornier was a German aircraft pioneer who started at the airship works of Count Zeppelin. It was in his aircraft design department where the first flying boats were built, including the Do J Wal. In 1929 he introduced the Do X, at the time the world’s largest aircraft. Some of the Wal’s milestones include the first attempt at an aerial expedition to the North Pole led by the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, the first aerial crossing of the South Atlantic; and the first round-the-world trip in 1932.
The Atlantic gets smaller
The possibility of transatlantic flight by aircraft emerged after World War I, with the first non-stop flight achieved by British aviators John Alcock and Arthur Brown in June 1919. In May 1927, Charles Lindbergh made the first solo crossing and first non-stop fixed-wing aircraft flight between America and mainland Europe, flying his 'Spirit of St. Louis' monoplane 3,600 nautical miles (6,700 km) in 33.5 hours. A year later, the first east-west Atlantic crossing was achieved, made by a German-Irish team of aviators who flew a Junkers W33 monoplane from Ireland to Canada. Both contributed to fulfilling the dream of transcontinental flight.
Bessie Coleman A brave hero
Bessie Coleman, born in 1892 in Texas, US, was the first woman of African American and Native American descent to earn a pilot's licenceview story
The Paris Air Show History of Le Bourget
The Paris Air Show, held at Le Bourget airport, is the world’s oldest and largest aerospace exhibition.View story
Birth of Spanish aviationCASA and the autogyro1923
Juan de la Cierva
Juan de la Cierva y Codorníu, 1st Count of De La Cierva, was a Spanish civil engineer, pilot and aeronautical engineer. His most famous accomplishment was the invention in 1920 of the Autogyro, a single-rotor type of aircraft. In 1923, after four years of experimentation, De la Cierva developed the articulated rotor, which resulted in the world's first successful flight of a stable rotary-wing aircraft, with his C.4 prototype.
The Spanish aerospace company CASA (Construcciones Aeronáuticas Sociedad Anónima), which eventually became part of Airbus, was founded on 3 March, 1923. Its formation is closely linked with the pioneer José Ortiz de Echagüe, and the first CASA plant was set up in Getafe near Madrid soon after its foundation. Pictured here is the first engine production hall, which was brought into operation in 1925. CASA carried out the licensed production of numerous aircraft, early examples being the Breguet XIX and the Dornier Do J Wal. CASA went on to build its own products, including light aircraft, and built up extensive competence in transport aircraft, maintenance and support, and carbon fibre technology.
José Ortiz de Echagüe
José Ortiz de Echagüe, known as Don José, was the first Spaniard to fly military aircraft and held the third Spanish pilot’s licence to be issued. At the age of 17, he became one of the first people to take reconnaissance photos from a balloon in Africa, and went on to undertake various spectacular flights. In 1917 he set up the ‘Electromecánica de Cataluña’ company in Madrid, which manufactured parts for the aircraft industry, and in 1923 he became a founder of CASA, where he occupied various top positions until his death.
In 1878 the young Wright brothers were given a toy helicopter by their father. It was made of paper, bamboo and cork and had a rubber band to twirl its rotor. In later years, they would point to the toy as an inspiration in the pursuit of their dream of flying.
Pescara Model 2F
The Argentine engineer Raúl Pateras-Pescara demonstrated one of the first successful applications of cyclic pitch. He built several helicopters and on 18 April, 1924 his model 2F flew 736 metres at 13 km/h to set a record in sustained vertical flight.
The helicopter's forerunner
Invented by Spanish engineer Juan de la Cierva, the first successful autogyro in the history of aviation flew for the first time on 9 January 1923, at Cuatro Vientos Airfield in Madrid. His aim was to create an aircraft that could fly safely at slow speeds. In 1928, De la Cierva broke a new aviation record by becoming the first to cross the English Channel on a rotorcraft.Video
New designs and missionsA time of exploration1925
Learning by doing
This was truly the era of learning by doing. Engineers tested many theories and designs during this period. A ‘flying wing’ design, the Junkers G38, was the biggest landplane of its time. While developing it, Professor Junkers was also testing aircraft without wings, ‘flying fuselages’. Other breakthrough designs took to the skies this decade, from the adjustable propeller of the SPAD 51 to the folding wings of the Potez 36 which allowed garage storage. This sports plane also had a number of unusual features. The two crew sat side-by-side, not in tandem, and it was one of the first aircraft with leading-edge slats. Its widely spaced main wheels had balloon tyres, which were important as aerobatic pilots in the 1920s didn’t always know where they were going to land.
Move over aerial reconnaissance aircraft: before early examples like the SPAD 51 and Potez 25, there were pigeons! In 1908, Dr Julius Neubronner developed and patented his pigeon camera. He strapped tiny timer-driven cameras to pigeons and then developed and printed the photos after the birds’ return, selling them as postcards.
The Moraine-Saulnier MS 230 was an extremely agile and speedy training aircraft. Because of the excellent vision afforded by its parasol-wing design and its large-dimensioned landing gear, it was a favourite with instructors and trainee pilots alike.
The Potez 25 biplane was a reconnaissance plane also capable of carrying out bombing missions. Its production ran to roughly 4,000 units, which made it the most built French aircraft of its day, and it was exported to 22 countries.
French pioneer Henry Potez founded his first company with Marcel Bloch and built the aircraft that became the Potez 7. He then set up his own company, which went on to build 7,000 civil and military aircraft and was eventually integrated in SNCAN, a predecessor of Aerospatiale. Potez also founded the ‘Potez Aéro Service’ in France for the purpose of marketing his touring and training aircraft. After the war, he developed the Potez 75 ground attack aircraft and the Potez 840 four-engine turboprop transport aircraft. Finally, in 1957, he acquired the Fouga company and continued the production of the CM170 Magister.