Wilbur and Orville Wright made their famous First Flight on December 17, 1903. Orville Wright, whose birthday we observe today as National Aviation Day, was 32 years old, and was at the controls of the Wright Flyer that morning having won a coin toss with his brother, who ran alongside and is shown in this remarkable photograph. On October 14, 1947, Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier flying the Bell X-1, and three months later, on January 30, 1948, Orville Wright died (Wilbur died in 1912 at age 45 from typhoid fever). Thus, the world went from a 12-second flight at 6.8 mph to 700 mph in the span of just 44 years.

Much has been written about the remarkable pace of technological advancement in aviation. These photographs illustrate those two monumental events, not just in aviation history, but in human history, both of which occurred within the lifetime of one man.

US Library of Congress
US Air Force