1850-1859 Master Index 1870-1879

1860-1869 Chronology of Aviation History
Major Aviation Events


  • 21 August 1860 (USA) — Capt. E.B Hunt, Corps of Engineers, Union Army, advocates balloon telegraphy. [2]

  • 13 October 1860 (Boston, Massachusetts) — Successful aerial photos taken by William Black from a balloon. [2]


  • 20 April 1861 (Unionville, South Carolina) — Confederates arrest balloonist as spy — A New England balloonist who has been jailed several times on suspicion of being a Yankee spy was arrested again today by Confederate troops. His arrest came just seven days after Unionist and Confederate troops clashed at Fort Sumter. Thaddeus Lowe was released after interrogation, when an innkeeper identified him as a genuine balloonist. Lowe told his captors that he had taken off from Cincinnati nine hours earlier. His aim was to test the west-to-east wind currents on a flight from the Midwest to the Atlantic coast, prior to making an attempt to become the first man to cross the Atlantic by balloon. [1]

  • 10 June 1861 (Washington, DC) — Military flight by James Allen, First Rhode Island State Militia, in a balloon over Washington, D.C. [2]

  • 18 June 1861 (USA) — The first balloon telegraph is demonstrated by Thaddeus S.C. Lowe in a message to Abraham Lincoln from the balloon Enterprise. [2]

  • 22-24 June 1861 (Arlington and Falls Church, Virginia) — Civil War Military reconnaissance are flown by Thaddeus S.C. Lowe and Union Army officers from a balloon using telegraph, over Arlington and Falls Church, Virginia. Military air observation continues into 1863.[2]

  • 3 August 1861 (Hampton Roads, Virginia) — United States Army steamship Fanny becomes the first ship to loft a captive manned balloon when a civilian aeronaut, John La Mountain, ascends from her deck to observe Confederate military positions at Hampton Roads, Virginia. He ascends again a few days later either from Fanny or a ship named Adriatic. [3]

  • 24 September 1861 (USA) — Air Artillery adjustment from Lowe's Army balloon near Washington. [2]

  • 1 October 1861 (USA) — The Union Army Balloon Corps is formed under Lowe's command, for observation and artillery direction. Balloons would see major use in the U.S. Civil War over the next four years. [1,3]

  • 7 November 1861 (USA) — Helicopter proposed for Union Army. After experiments, a machine is partly built before Appomattox ends the project. [2]

  • 10 November 1861 (Washington, D.C.) — The USS George Washington Parke Curtis becomes the first warship dedicated to air operations, transporting and towing reconnaissance balloons along the Potomac River. The George Washington Parke Custis, a coal barge built in the mid-1850's, was purchased by the Navy in August 1861. The barge was fitted out with a gas-generating apparatus developed by Thaddeus Lowe and modified by John A. Dahlgren at the Washington Navy Yard for her service as a balloon boat. Early in the morning of 10 November 1861, steamer Coeur de Lion towed the USS George Washington Parke Custis out of the Navy Yard and down the Potomac. The next day Lowe, accompanied by General Daniel E. Sickles and others, ascended in his trial balloon from the barge off Mattawomen Creek to observe Confederate forces on the Virginia shore some 3 miles away. On 12 November 1861 Lowe reported: “We had a fine view of the enemy camp fires during the evening and saw the rebels constructing batteries at Freestone Point.” This operation and John La Mountain's earlier ascension from Fanny began the widespread use of balloons for reconnaissance work during the Civil War arid foreshadowed the Navy's future use of the air to extend its effective use of sea power. [6]


  • 9 March 1862 (Mobile, Alabama) — A war helicopter bomber is designed and urged by William C. Powers of Mobile, Alabama. [2]

  • Late March 1862 (Mississippi River, United States) — Civilian aeronaut John H. Steiner takes United States Navy officers aloft in an observation balloon from the deck of a flatboat on the Mississippi River so that they can direct the fire of U.S. Navy mortar boats against the Confederate held Island Number Ten. It will be the last aerial guidance of naval gunfire anywhere in the world until 1904. [3]

  • March/April/May 1862 (York River, Virginia) — The United States Navy barge George Washington Parke Custis transports and tows observation balloons along the York River in Virginia during the Peninsula Campaign. [3]

  • April 1862 (Port Royal, South Carolina) — John B. Starkweather ascends several times in a balloon from the deck of the Union paddler steamer May Flower to observe Confederate positions at Port Royal, South Carolina. [3]

  • 31 May 1862 (Fair Oaks, Virginia) — Balloonist Thadeus Lowe makes an aerial reconnaissance of Confederate positions which saves the Union Army from a heavy defeat at Fair Oaks. [1]

  • June 1862 (James River, Virginia) — The Confederate States Navy chooses the steamer CSS Teaser to embark a balloon for use in observation of the Union Army positions along the James River in Virginia. [3]

  • 1-3 July 1862 (James River, Virginia) — The Confederate States Navy steamer CSS Teaser operates a coal-gas silk observation balloon to reconnoiter Union Army positions along the James River in Virginia, the only use of a balloon by the Confederate States Navy. Her capture on July 4 by the steamer USS Maratanza ends Confederate naval balloon observations. [3]

  • September 1862 (Essex, England) — George Faux, 62, resident of Chigwell, fails in an attempt to fly from the roof of the village public house. [1]

  • 5 September 1862 (Wolverhampton, England) — Englishman soar to dizzy new heights — Two intrepid British aeronauts today ascended higher above the earth than anyone before them: Henry Coxwell, son of naval officer, and distinguished meteorologist James Glaisher. Today they lifted off from Wolverhampton at 1:03 p.m. in a balloon carrying many scientific instruments. Passing through a layer of cloud, they emerged into bright sunshine and by 1:22 p.m. had reached 10,560 feet. By 21,000 feet the air was becoming thin and cold, but still they rose. At 26,000 feet the valve line became tangled in the ropes; the pair knew they would have to free it, or they would not be able to control their rapid ascent by releasing gas. Coxwell climbed high into the rigging to free the valve line. Soon they were apparently at 29,000 feet, where ire air is very thin and the temperature below freezing. Glaisher found that he could no longer see to read his instruments, and then he lost the use of his arms. Finally he blacked out completely. Meanwhile Coxwell managed to free the valve line, only to find his hands too frozen to hold it. In the end he tugged it with his teeth and begin releasing gas. From a reported 30,000 feet, the unconscious men descended at last to warm oxygen-rich air below. They have now recovered. [1]


  • 1863 (United States) — The Union Army Balloon Corps is disbanded earlier in the year. [3]

  • 1863 (United States) — Civilian aeronaut John H. Steiner takes Ferdinand von Zeppelin, a Prussian Army officer assigned to the Union Army as an observer, aloft in a balloon. Zeppelin later credit this ascent as his inspiration to create the rigid airship, which he first applies in 1900. [3]

  • 1 June 1863 (Perth Amboy, New Jersey) — Dirigible airship flown by Solomon Andrews over Perth Amboy, New Jersey. Two flights over New York in 1865. [3]

  • 4 October 1863 (Paris, France) — Le Géant, a 196-foot high hydrogen balloon built by French photographer Nadar (Félix Tournachon), makes its first flight. It carries 12 passengers 15 miles before dropping violently to earth. [1]

  • 19 October 1863 (Paris, France) — Ride of ‘the Giant’ comes to a bumpy ending — There was a narrow escape today for French photographer Félix Tournachon (otherwise known as Nadar) and eight other passengers and crew of the 196-foot high balloon Le Géant [The Giant]. After a faultless flight of some 400 miles, they plummeted to the ground, narrowly avoiding an oncoming railroad engine. Several onboard suffered broken bones, but all survived the experience. Nadar reported that the balloon hit the ground, ripped through trees and bounced across fields “like an India-rubber ball”. Le Géant ascended yesterday in front of a crowd estimated at 500,000. Below the balloon hung the passenger basket in its full glory. This two-story wicker “house” contained two cabins, a photography room, printing room, storeroom and a closet. Above, on the roof was a balcony from where the passengers could enjoy the views. Cruising at 4,000 feet, it floated over Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany. But as the Sun rose, Nadar became worried that the gas would expand and burst the envelope. Too much gas was vetted; then the balloon hit a storm and could not be made to rise. Descending far too quickly, it struck the ground hard and began its alarming role against the ground. [1]


  • 1864 (South America) — Outbreak of the War of the Triple Alliance between Paraguay and Brazil. Brazilian forces made much use of balloon reconnaissance over the next six years. [3]


  • 1865 (New York City) — Dirigible airship flown twice over New York City by Solomon Andrews. [3]

  • 1865 — Jules Verne describes in his novel The Journey to the Moon the launch of a rocket from Florida, from where many years later U. S. space flights actually start. [3]

  • 1865 — The Frenchman d'Esterno writes in his book About the flight of birds, “Gliding seems to be characteristic for heavy birds; there are no odds which are stacked against that humans can not do the same at fair wind.” [3]

  • 1865 — French artist and farmer Louis Pierre Mouillard makes a successful attempt to fly. After years of studies about bird flight he publishes his book L'Empire de l'Air in 1881. He thinks that imitation of gliding and soaring flight of birds is possible, but not the imitation of the flapping of wings. [3]


  • 1866 (South America) — The first South American military balloon reconnaissance ascent. On 6 July, Lieut. Col. Roberto A. Chodasiewicz, an Argentine Army military engineer, makes the first South American military observation ascent, manning a Brazilian Army's captive balloon over Paraguayan troops, during the Triple Alliance War. [3]

  • 12 January 1866 (London, England) — The Aeronautical Society of Great Britain is established. [1]

  • 25 May 1866 (New York City, New York) — Solomon Andrews' airship maneuvers over New York with four passengers. [2]

  • 27 June 1866 (London, England) — The first meeting of the Aeronautical Society of Great Britain, founded on January 12 of this year, took place today before an earnest and dignified audience. The creation of a society reflects the growing respectability of the subject of Aeronautics, especially the proven science of ballooning. However, the society is clearly interested in the development of heavier-than-air flying machines, which was a principal topic of the first paper read before the society. The paper, entitled “Aerial Locomotion”, was delivered by a marine engineer and scientist Francis Herbert Wenham, who is especially interested in microscopy and flying. Wenham has already carried out much research into wings, and for example, reports that curved wings lift more strongly than flat ones. He also finds that long, narrow wings are better than short, broad ones. [1]

  • 1866-1869 (Austria-Hungary) — Jan Wnek (1828-1869) is believed to have been an aviation pioneer. Jan Wnek was born in Kaczówka. He was illiterate but known to be very intelligent. Trained as a carpenter, this Polish peasant had a keen sense of detail and was also able to restore paintings. Under the encouragement of a Roman Catholic Father, Wnek became a prolific wood and stone sculptor for churches and cemeteries in Kraków and Odporyszów. Jan Wnek is remembered in Poland to have been an early aviation pioneer. He was self-taught and could only count on his knowledge about nature based on the observation of bird flight and on his own builder and carver skills. He noted that some soaring birds made use of rising air currents in facilitating climb and identified the optimal weather conditions for his flights. He also spent considerable time (years) studying a dead duck's wing and observing how live birds manage their wings and tail for controlled flight.

    Wnek built several wing models and although he did not understand the aerodynamics of lift, he mimicked the upper curvature of a bird's wing. He tested his weighted models by throwing them by hand. In 1866 he started construction of an ash wood wing skeleton, which he covered with linen impregnated with varnish. After several months of work he completed construction and he named his glider “Loty” (Flyer). Jan Wnek was firmly strapped to the glider by the chest and hips and it is claimed that he controlled his glider by twisting the wing's trailing edge via strings attached to stirrups at his feet. Wnek managed his first short controlled flights in June of that same year from a small hill. After several flights, some adjustments and learning his glider behavior, Wnek felt confident enough to ask for authorization from the Odporyszów village church priest to build a special ramp on top of the church tower to launch from. The tower stood 45 m high and was located on top of a 50 m hill, making a 95 m (311 ft) high launch above the valley below.

    On late June 1866, Wnek timed his big flight to coincide with an upcoming Pentecost church celebration. It is reported that huge crowds came to church celebrations and also to purchase goods from shops and nearby town markets. The summer breeze must have been perfect as he launched for a flawless flight of substantial distance - probably aided by a prevailing thermal updraft - quoted as 1800 meters. Three years later, during the Pentecost Carnival held on May 16, 1869 at Odporyszów, Austria-Hungary, Wnek's final flight ended in a tragic fall. He died a few weeks later at age 41. His flying activities spanned about four years in time and, although his flights preceded Otto Lilienthal's by 25 years, Wnek left no known written records or drawings, thus having no impact on aviation progress. [3,4]


  • 1867 (Paris, France) — Henry Giffard installs a huge captive balloon for 20 passengers at the World Exposition in Paris. [3]


  • 1868 (London, England) — English inventor John Stringfellow's steam-powered Triplane, and with “superposed” wings, is put on display at the Aeronautical Society's exhibition. [1]

  • 1868 (Paris, France) — Nadar takes the world's first aerial photograph - a view of the Etoile as seen from 1,700 feet up in a tethered balloon. [1]

  • 1868 (London, England) — M. Boulton applies for an English patent for the use of a wing flap. [3]

  • 1868 (London, England) — First exhibition of aviation in London's Crystal Palace. [3]


Works Cited

  1. Gunston, Bill, et al. Chronicle of Aviation. Liberty, Missouri: JL Publishing Inc., 1992. 14-17
  2. Parrish, Wayne W. (Publisher). "United States Chronology". 1962 Aerospace Yearbook, Forty-Third Annual Edition. Washington, DC: American Aviation Publications, Inc., 1962, 446-469.
  3. Wikipedia, Timeline of Aviation — 19th Century
  4. Wikipedia, Jan Wank

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