Dreams of Flight: General Aviation in the United States

Dreams of Flight: General Aviation in the United States

Dreams of Flight: General Aviation in the United States

Dreams of Flight: General Aviation in the United States


General aviation encompasses all the ways aircraft are used beyond commercial and military flying: private flights, barnstormers, cropdusters, and so on. Authors Janet and Michael Bednarek have taken on the formidable task of discussing the hundred-year history of this broad and diverse field by focusing on the most important figures and organizations in general aviation and the major producers of general aviation aircraft and engines.

This history examines the many airplanes used in general aviation, from early Wright and Curtiss aircraft to the Piper Cub and the Lear Jet. The authors trace the careers of birdmen, birdwomen, barnstormers, and others who shaped general aviation-from Clyde Cessna and the Stinson family of San Antonio to Olive Ann Beech and Paul Poberezny of Milwaukee. They explain how the development of engines influenced the development of aircraft, from the E-107 that powered the 1929 Aeronca C-2, the first affordable personal aircraft, to the Continental A-40 that powered the Piper Cub, and the Pratt and Whitney PT-6 turboprop used on many aircraft after World War II.

In addition, the authors chart the boom and bust cycle of general aviation manufacturers, the rising costs and increased regulations that have accompanied a decline in pilots, the creation of an influential general aviation lobby in Washington, and the growing popularity of "type" clubs, created to maintain aircraft whose average age is twenty-eight years.

This book provides readers with a sense of the scope and richness of the history of general aviation in the United States. An epilogue examining the consequences of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, provides a cautionary note.


What is general aviation? This question is perhaps most simply answered by explaining what general aviation is not. General aviation is not the scheduled commercial airlines and it is not military aviation. Pretty much all other aviation activities—including private and sport flying, aerial photography and surveying, crop dusting, business flying, medical evacuation, flight training, and the use of police and fire-fighting aircraft—fall under this broad heading. General aviation aircraft include everything from small, single-engine, fabric-covered planes to multimillion-dollar business jets—with helicopters, converted airliners, restored war birds, and homebuilt aircraft all falling within that range. General aviation, therefore, is defined not so much by the types of aircraft involved, but rather by the use to which those aircraft are put. Although what we now call general aviation—which before the 1950s was most often referred to as private or personal aviation—did not begin to blossom until the 1920s, its origins, like the origins of all aviation, began with the invention of the airplane and those who first dreamed about how this modern marvel might be used.

Almost from the moment Americans first realized that Orville and Wilbur Wright had indeed invented the airplane, certain beliefs and myths began to surround the use of this wondrous new machine. Joseph Corn called them “the winged gospel.” Many Americans saw the advent of the airplane as the dawn of a new age: an air age that would bring with it profound social and cultural changes. Some proponents of the winged gospel promoted military use of the airplane, claiming that it would change the nature of warfare. Others envisioned a future in which aircraft would allow people and ideas to travel farther and faster, erasing the barriers of time and space and drawing the world closer together. Still others focused their hopes and dreams on what came to be known as general aviation. They believed that flying an airplane would . . .

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