On April 28, 1910, Claude Grahame-White made aviation history with the first nighttime airplane flight. Although it’s a routine occurrence today, in 1910, it had never been tried before because, with the airplanes of the time, it was rather dangerous.
The first flight ever had been made just six years previously. The first generation of airplanes was incredibly primitive. They had no modern navigation instruments. They had barely enough power to fly, and the wings tended to get ripped off if the pilot climbed or banked too hard. And there was no air traffic control. Nor did many pilots have much experience flying. In fact, Claude was just the sixth person to get a pilot’s license in England.
Immediately after getting his license, he competed for the £10,000 prize The Daily Mail was offering to the first pilot who could fly between London and Manchester in less than 24 hours. He figured he’d get the edge on the competition by risking a night flight. Using the headlights of his crew’s cars to guide himself down the runway, he took off at 2:50 a.m. Almost immediately, his plane plunged toward the ground because his jacket accidentally brushed the ignition switch, shutting the engine off. But he recovered and pressed on, using the lights of railroad stations to guide him to Manchester.
Unfortunately, his primitive plane did not have the power to lift itself over the hills between him and Manchester, so he was forced to land, allowing a competitor to overtake him and win the race. However, he was widely praised for his effort, and he did get the distinction of making aviation history.