History is evident in one such east coast airline.

         History of Multi-Engine Flight


                                                                 Kenneth Johnson

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                   In this paper, we will look at the humble beginnings of the multi-engine aircraft.  The first multi-engine aircraft was The Wright Flyer in 1903.  It has become the beginning of a very large industry that drives the world’s economy.  It was invented and tested by two brothers.  This invention kicked started a race to perfect the design to fly farther and faster than ever before.  Amelia Earhart, although did not complete the flight around the world, did prove the usefulness of the multi-engine airplane as a useful platform for fast and reliable transportation.  As technology progressed these multi-engine aircraft began to become larger and more powerful.  This allowed the multi-engine aircraft to become the world’s means of everyday transportation.  This is evident in one such east coast airline.  Piedmont Airlines was one of the most popular airlines of its day.  The airline paints a great picture of how it used the multi-engine aircraft for its success.  Lastly, we will discuss the present day multi-engine aircraft and what the future likely holds for this iconic aircraft.








                                                 History of Multi-Engine Flight

           The airplane has been a dream of man for many centuries.  To be able to break the bounds of gravity and fly in the heavens like a bird.  Well, that dream was finally accomplished in December of 1903.  Not only was this the first-time man had flown in a powered craft, it was the first multi-engine aircraft to be used.  The men that defied gravity and accomplished this great feat were named Wilber and Orville Wright (Yogananda, 2003).


           As the book review explains:  “The Wright brothers were from a low middle-class family and their formal education did not go beyond high school, and though each spent the time for a full course neither ever received a diploma. Their means of livelihood came from the bicycle shop which they started in 1892-93. They began by repairing for other boys and later opened their own shop to sell bicycles, including those of their own making. But it turned out that these two brothers formed the association that finally succeeded (Yogananda, 2003)”.


         The Wright brother’s interest in flying and the airplanes began when they both were children.  Their interest was aroused when their father brought home a toy in 1878.  Orville Wright goes into detail and describes his experience.  Orville describes the fall of 1878 and tells the story when their father came home with a new item.  When their father threw this new item, it seemed as any other object it would fall to the floor, however, it flew, struck the ceiling and fell to the floor.  This item was fragile.  It was made with cork, bamboo, paper, two screws, and rubber bands.  With these lightweight materials, it didn’t last very long, but the memory has lasted a lifetime.  “It was a little toy, known to scientists as a ‘helicoptere,’ but which we, with sublime disregard for science, at once dubbed a “bat”. (Yogananda, 2003).


          As the boys got older they tried to make models of the toy bigger.  However, they failed in their endeavors.  The began to fly kites and became experts.  “The brothers started their field experiments in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina in 1900 (Sept.- Oct.) and continued over the next three years, 1901 (Jul.-Aug.), 1902 (Sept.-Oct.) and 1903 (Oct.-Dec.).  Finally, on the 17th of December at 10:35 AM the first multi-engine aircraft winged its way over the Kitty Hawk dunes, thus starting the age of aviation (Yogananda, 2003).


           As time progressed the aircraft began to develop into a more sturdy and complex multi-engine platform.  As the textbook explains that in 1913 a Russian aircraft designer created one of the most advanced aircraft ever seen.  It was a bi-plane that was enclosed and had large windows for the passengers to enjoy the view.  It was thought the aircraft would have performed very poorly.  However, it was fixed with four engines that made it perform very well (Werner, 2014).  Many aircraft like this continued to progress very quickly as more inventors and dreamers began to put their ideas in motion.  Or in this case, the air. 


             As aviation advanced, many people were still skeptical of these large pieces of metal flying through the air.  Flying around the world was a foreign idea to most people.  This was the case until brave thrill seekers flew these aircraft on near impossible flights.  Emilia Earhart was one of these people.  Emilia wanted to be the first woman and second person to fly alone across the Atlantic.  On May 20th, 1932, Emilia took off from Harbor Grace, Newfoundland, to Paris.  The flight had treacherous weather including, strong north winds, icy conditions, and this caused mechanical problems that plagued the flight and forced her to land in a pasture near Londonderry, Ireland.  Emilia stated, “After scaring most of the cows in the neighborhood, I pulled up in a farmer’s backyard.”  Her flight caught a great amount of media attention, therefore, she was encircled in both overseas and in the United States.  During the time, President Herbert Hoover was the United States President.  He presented Earhart with a gold medal from the National Geographic Society.  At the same time, Congress awarded Earhart the Distinguished Flying Cross.  This was the first ever given to a woman and it was well deserved.  At the ceremony, Vice President Charles Curtis described her efforts as, “heroic courage and skill as a navigator at the risk of her life.” Earhart felt the flight proved that men and women were equal in jobs requiring intelligence, coordination, speed, coolness, and willpower. (Earhart, n.d.)


               Although the Atlantic crossing was an amazing feat, it was not enough for Emilia.  She had a goal to fly around the world.  The aircraft she used was the Lockheed Electra 10E.  This was beautiful multi-engine aircraft with conventional gear.  It was modified with long range fuel tanks to prepare for the daring feat.  Earhart was determined although her flight attempt highly damaged her plane.  Seeing her plane severely damaged, she had the twin-engine rebuilt.  Earhart wanted one more good flight and she was hoping this next trip would be it.  On June 1, Earhart left with her navigator, Fred Noonan.  They departed from Miami and began the 29,000-mile journey.  By June 29, they landed in Lae, New Guinea.  At this point in time, only 7,000 miles remained on their journey.  Inaccurate maps made navigation difficult for Noonan, and their next flight to Howland Island was the most challenging throughout their travel.  Howland Island is 2,556 miles from Lae in the mid-Pacific and is only a mile and a half long and a half mile wide. All items that were unessential, were removed from the plane to make room for additional fuel.  This, in turn, gave Earhart approximately 274 extra miles.  The U.S. Coast Guard radio contact, ITASCA, was stationed offshore Howland Island.  The two other U.S. ships were positioned along the flight route as markers.  They ordered to burn every light on board.  “Howland is such a small spot in the Pacific that every aid to locating it must be available,” Earhart emphasized (Earhart, n.d).


          July 2 at 10 a.m. zero Greenwich time, the pair, Earhart and Noonan, took off despite weather reports regarding overcast skies and rain showers.  This made celestial navigation difficult.  During the early morning, Earhart called the ITASCA and reported cloudy weather.   Later, Earhart asked ITASCA to take bearings on her.  The ITASCA sent her a steady transmission, but she had a hard time deciphering them.  Her radio transmissions had been irregular through most of the flight and when she could get a transmission they were faint or interrupted with static.  At 7:42 a.m., the Itasca heard, “We must be on you, but we cannot see you. Fuel is running low. Been unable to reach you by radio. We are flying at 1,000 feet.”  The ship tried to reply, but it could not be transmitted to the plane.  At 8:45 a.m., Earhart reported, “We are running north and south.”  After this, nothing more was heard from her.  (Earhart, n.d.).”  Even through Earhart did not succeed it showed the world that the multi-engine aircraft was a useful means of transportation for the growing nation.


            As the world began to see how multi-engine aircraft are a safe reliable form of transportation, many businessmen decided to capitalize on this.  One such man that did this is Mr. Tom Davis.  He was the owner-operator of a very successful airline operation known as Piedmont Airlines.  Even though the airline as it was known does not operate, its legacy still lives on as American Eagle.


           Piedmont Airlines used many multi-engine airplanes to advance the success of the company.  One such aircraft was the DC-3.  The inaugural plane was setting on the Bluethenthal Field in Wilmington, North Caroline with the words Piedmont Airlines painted over the door.  The flight rolled down the runway at 7:15 launching the many years of Multi-engine success for this aircraft.  The flight flew to Charlotte North Carolina, then to Asheville North Carolina.  Then the flight proceeded to Bristol, Kingsport, and Johnson City Tennessee before it landed in Cincinnati (Elliott,2006).  As the airline became larger and the routes were further apart, the aircraft that Piedmont used became more and advanced.  This brought the need for the most complex multi-engine aircraft of the day, the jet.  Piedmont Airlines leased the first jet from Boeing in 1967.  It was a Boeing 727 (Elliott, 2006).  This aircraft not only had two engines, but it had three.  The aircraft allowed Piedmont’s passengers to travel further distances and at higher speeds, thus allowing form more destinations.  Piedmont decided that turbine powered engines were the way to go because of the success of the Boeing 727 (Elliott,2006).  Piedmont is a prime example of the importance of the multi-engine aircraft.   Piedmont certainly holds an important place in multi-engine history.


           Although the multi-engine aircraft started as a very basic design, it has become one of the most advanced pieces of equipment known today.  There are many of these multi-engine aircraft that fly every day.  One such multi-engine aircraft that comes to mind is the Gulfstream G-650.  The aircraft is fixed with two Rolls-Royce BR725 AI-12 that allows the aircraft to obtain very high speeds.  Not only is it very fast it also cruises at 51,000 feet and has a range of 7,000 miles (Gulfstream, 2017).  The aircraft is a great example of how multi-engine aircraft are advancing.


         The history of multi-engine flight is relatively short as it has only been a little over a hundred years since the first multi-engine aircraft took flight in Kitty Hawk North Carolina.  The multi-engine aircraft then advanced to larger aircraft with more power and range.  The multi-engine was used by great aviators Amila Earhart to complete impossible flights.  The multi-engine aircraft then proved its self to Piedmont Airlines, making them a very successful company.  And finally, the G-650 is a great example of the present and future of the multi-engine aircraft.









Biography – The Official Licensing Website of Amelia Earhart. (n.d.). Retrieved December 15,    2017, from https://www.ameliaearhart.com/biography/

Elliott, F. (2006). Piedmont Flight of the Pacemaker. Winston-Salem, NC: Piedmont Aviation     Historical Society .

(n.d.). Retrieved December 15, 2017, from http://www.gulfstream.com/aircraft/gulfstream-g650

Werner, A., & Stout, C. (2014). Guided Flight Discovery Multi-Engine. Englewood , CO:            Jeppesen .

Yogananda, C. (2003, December). How We Invented the Airplane Review of book How we       Invented the Airplane Orville Wright. Retrieved November 25, 2017, from            http://www.ias.ac.in/article/fulltext/reso/008/12/0094-0098


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