Where and when was the first time someone used an airplane because they needed to get somewhere, and not just to show off the new-fangled technology?
Start with WWI (1914) and work backwards, I suppose. Pretty sure militarily “necessary” use well preceded commercial use.
While routine use in the military did probably precede most commercial uses there were very early experiments for using planes for airmail
This is from a history page on the US Postal Service website USPS
"The Post Office Department, however, was intrigued with the possibility of carrying mail through the skies and authorized its first experimental mail flight in 1911 at an aviation meet on Long Island in New York. Earle Ovington, sworn in as a mail carrier by Postmaster General Frank Hitchcock, made daily flights between Garden City and Mineola, New York, dropping his mail bags from the plane to the ground where they were picked up by the Mineola postmaster.
Later, in 1911 and 1912, the Department authorized 52 experimental flights at fairs, carnivals, and air meets in more than 25 states.
These flights convinced the Department that the airplane could carry a payload of mail, and officials repeatedly urged Congress after 1912 to appropriate money to launch airmail service. Congress finally authorized use of $50,000 from steam-and-powerboat service appropriations for airmail experiments in 1916. The Department advertised for bids in Massachusetts and Alaska but received no response in the absence of suitable planes."
It comes down, in part, to the definition of “necessary”
Would flights to claim various prizes count? One early example would be Santos-Dumont’s flight of 60 meters in October 1906, to claim the Archdeacon Prize.
I’m not sure these were “necessary,” but they could qualify as “needing to get somewhere.” Of course they were also showing off the technology, such as it was.
Not exactly a case of someone needing to get somewhere, but Bulgaria used planes for bombing raids in the 1912-13 Balkan Wars.
Sorry, that’s the opposite of what I’m looking for. That’s flying for the sake of flying. And if in 1906 the best anybody could do was less than 200 feet airplanes were clearly at the time useless as transportation. But by 1911 they were used to deliver mail. So sometime between 1906 and 1911 someone for the first time thought, “I need to get to X. I could drive there, but instead I’ll fly.” What was that flight?
I’m almost ashamed to quote this article concerning the achievements of Glenn Curtiss, but I get the same result from another equally impeachable source so it could just be true:
It might assist the OP if someone knows the identity of this pioneering customer who, one would assume, purchased this newfangled contraption in order to better co-ordinate his travel itinerary.
Of course, identification of the First Customer may not reveal the answer to the OP’s question but it would represent a significant step backwards from 1911.
Santos-Dumont is actually an interesting example. Before his first airplane flight he designed a small private airship (a horizontal balloon with a seat underneath) in 1904. Instead of driving his electric car around Paris, he would often take the airship from his test grounds in a Paris suburb and fly it to lunch at Maxim’s restaurant in the heart of Paris, tethering the balloon to a lightpost outside, and then fly it back to his base. He was the first air commuter of any kind.
It should be noted that by 1906 the Wright brothers were flying quite a bit further than 200’. Indeed, in late 1905 they made a flight of 24.2 miles in 38 minutes. But they were still “flying for the sake of flying” (more specifically, for the sake of making a practical and marketable airplane). And no one else was even close.
That would be the Aeronautic Society of New York, which purchased the Golden Flier from Curtiss in January 1909, taking delivery in July. It doesn’t answer the OP, though–the Society wanted to use the plane for demonstration and pilot training, not for getting from Point A to Point B.
Most “commercial” aviation before about 1920 consisted of demonstration flying, stunt flying, or racing for prizes, but there were a few intrepid souls who contracted for “air taxi” service to get to a destination. I don’t know who was the first person to do so–it’s a good question.
That is part of a point I wanted to make. Most people know the Wright Brothers invented the airplane but few have any idea what great quailty scientist/engineers they were. At the time, there were a bunch of hacks scattered across the world who put together all kinds “interesting things” in order to make something fly at all. You can see those attempts in black and white documentaries and how well they panned out.
The Wright Brothers were completely unlike that. They invented the wind tunnel for use in airplanes designs. They also understood materials and weight design quite well and their delays were from figuring out how to build an engine small light enough to sit on one of their planes because the power output wasn’t much.
The Wright Brothers were assured of success right from the start just based on their scientific approach. Their most ingenious contribution were their control surfaces which are ancestors to the ones used today.
Few people know that the Wright Brothers remained silent on the matter as well as it being virtually ignored by the press except for a couple of photos after the 1903 flight. Flyer I was a prototype plane for them and a stepping stone so they didn’t view it as an endpoint. They went on to invent and improve upon several other planes by 1906 yet the strange part was that there was still a raging race around the world about who could build the first airplane with a practical use. Others had invented airplanes similar to Flyer I in the meantime and proclaimed themselves inventors of the airplane.
Finally, it came down to patents and possible military contracts so the Wright Brothers were forced to show their next generation airplanes against rivals in France, New York, and elsewhere. The Wright Brothers planes could literally fly rings around all other planes by 1906 and do it with modern-like controls, takeoffs and landings. I have no idea if it was used for anything practical but they had passenger seats and could easily take a passenger to a destination.
It may be worth noting that Mineola and Garden City are only about a mile apart. (Click off the balloon; it covers Mineola.)
I’d consider Ovington’s flight more of a publicity stunt, rather than a necessity.
Of course, people were flying before before the Wright Brothers. They had things such as hot air balloons and Zeppelins. Do you include them as “airplanes?” Or are you going to restrict it to heavier than air machines?
Anyway, how about aerial photography, which began in 1858. From a balloon. By Nadar. Good enough reason for a flight?
And commercial passenger flight (by Zeppelin) began in 1909, according to Wikipedia.
" In 1909, LZ6 became the first Zeppelin used for commercial passenger transport. The world’s first airline, the newly founded DELAG, bought seven LZ6s by 1914. "
I certainly agree with you on this, though I quibble with minor aspects of your post (below).
They actually took just six week to build their motor (an amazing achievement in itself). This motor wasn’t very powerful and tended to overheat, but it exceeded expectations and certainly got the job done for the Flyer.
We can say that now, but it didn’t seem that way to them. They were seriously discouraged after their 1901 Kitty Hawk experiments. But their persistence eventually conquered all.
It would be more accurate to say that their most important contribution was their development of 3-axis control, which has been used on at least 98% of successful heavier-than-aircraft, and 105 years later shows not the slightest sign of obsolescence.
Tony Jannus operated the world’s first scheduled airline flights in 1914 between Tampa and St. Petersburg, Florida.
If not, there were hot-air balloons used for battlefield reconnaissance by the Union Army in the US Civil War. That seems pretty necessary.
If the criteria are “airplane” and “to get somewhere”, I’d nominate March 14, 1910
Don’t mean to pile on the nit-picking, but they didn’t invent the wind tunnel, either. They were notable for using wind tunnels to refine their airfoil design and measure lift and drag on their models. They also were the first people to use principles of dynamic scaling to design their full-size aircraft, and wind tunnels helped them do that.
Why did he want to go to Trois? Did he actually have some sort of business there and needed to get there in a hurry? Or was he doing it just to show that it could be done? I suspect the latter, which isn’t what the OP wants.
And why not 1908?
October 14, Henry Farman makes the first cross-country flight in a power-driven aeroplane, from Bouy to Reims (27 km) in 20 minutes.
December 18 - Wilbur Wright at Auvours flies 100 km (62 miles) in 1 hour and 54 minutes rising to 110 m (360 feet) - a new world record.
December 31 - Wilbur Wright wins a prize of FF 20,000 from Michelin for the longest flight of the year (a world record) - 124 km (76.5 miles) in 2 hours 18 minutes and 53 seconds from Camp d’Auvours.