Items of aviation memorabilia are objects directly connected with the history of aviation, pilots, military and civilian aircraft, airlines and other related areas.
These can range from autographs, photography and books to items of clothing, mechanical parts and entire aircraft.
Collecting aviation memorabilia
Aviation memorabilia is often separated into two categories, military and civilian.
Military collectors concentrate on items with a connection to military aircraft, Air Force divisions and the history of military aviation.
Items such as wing badges, squadron patches, flight jackets and helmets are popular, along with authentic parts from planes including fighters, bombers and reconnaissance aircraft.
Military collectors will often focus on a specific war or battle, such as the Battle of Britain during World War II, or a particular plane like the Spitfire or the B-17 Flying Fortress.
Collectors who focus on civilian memorabilia look for items tracing the history of civil aviation and airlines. Along with pilots insignia, uniforms and aircraft parts there is a large amount of commercial airline ephemera available such as advertising signs, in-flight magazines, timetables and even sick-bags.
Models made by aircraft manufacturers are highly prized, particularly cutaway models, and promotional items like playing cards and drinking glasses given free to passengers are also popular. Some of the most popular items in this area are connected to Concorde, due to its iconic status in civil aviation history.
The most valuable pieces of memorabilia are those linked to significant pilots and aircraft from aviation’s early history.
Items connected to aviators such as Orville and Wilbur Wright, Amelia Earhart, Charles Lindberg and Howard Hughes are the rarest and most sought-after on the market.
The history of modern aviation began in France in 1783 with the development of the first hot-air balloon by the Montgolfier brothers.
Pre-World War I
The Montgolfier Brother were quickly followed by Jean-Pierre Blanchard who, along with the Englishman Dr John Jeffries, manned the first cross-Channel flight from England to France in 1785. He subsequently travelled the world and conducted the first balloon flight in North America in 1793.
The first true manned flight in a heavier-than-air aircraft was achieved on December 17 1903 when brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright launched their Wright Flyer. There had been previous flight made by gliders and uncontrolled powered aircraft, but this was the first flight to combine power and control in a modern sense.
Aircraft design moved forward rapidly and on October 23 1911 the first military reconnaissance flight was conducted by the Italian army during the Italian-Turkish war, quickly followed by the first bombing mission on November 1. During the First World War aircraft were used for many combat and reconnaissance missions, and the first purpose-built fighter planes soon appeared.
World War I
The years between the First and Second World Wars were known as the ‘Golden Age’ of aviation for the huge advancements in technology combines with the pioneering spirit of early aviators.
Pilots returning from the First World War started to appear in towns across America, giving flying demonstrations and rides to passengers.
Organised air shows developed from these displays, inspiring a new generation of aviators such as Amelia Earhart who decided to learn to fly after taking a ride at one such show.
In June 1914 Captain John Alcock and Lieutenant Arthur Brown became the first men to fly across the Atlantic, and a month later the British Royal airship R34 conducted the first lighter-than-air Atlantic crossing.
In 1918 the United States Postal Service began experimenting with an air mail service, and the various independent companies that ran the routes evolved into today’s modern airlines.
Between the Wars
1927 saw the formation of Boeing Air Transport, with American Airways following in 1930.
In May 1928 Charles Lindberg became the first man to fly solo across the Atlantic in his plane The Spirit of St Louis, a feat which made him a celebrated American hero, and in 1932 Amelia Earhart became the first woman to make the same flight.
World War II
World War II saw aviation technology develop even faster and further, as military research led to several breakthroughs.
The first functional jetplane was the German Heinkel He 178, flown by Erich Warsitz in 1939, followed by the world’s first operational fighter aircraft, the Me 262 in July 1942 and worlds first jet powered bomber, the Arado Ar 234, in June 1943.
In 1940 the Battle of Britain became the first military battle fought exclusively by opposing air forces, and remains one of history’s most famous aerial battles to this day.
The world of civil aviation was also moving forward during this time. The first ever scheduled commercial airline flight had taken place in 1914 when pilot Tony Jannus flew the inaugural flight of the St. Petersburg Tampa Airboat Line.
In 1925 the Ford Motor Company bought out the Stout Aircraft Company and produced the Ford Trimitor, America’s first successful airliner carrying 12 passengers at a time.
The early 1950s saw production of the first commercial jet aircraft, the British de Havilland DH 106 Comet.
Larger planes based on WW II military bomber designs offered more passenger space, increased efficiency and greater speed, the three qualities vital to commercial airlines.
The next major step was the development of the ‘Jumbo jet’ in the 1970s, with the birth of planes such as the Boeing 747, McDonnell Douglas DC-10, and the Lockheed L-1011 which all offered airlines a twin-aisle service and the ability to double the number of passengers.
In 1976 Concorde began the world’s first supersonic commercial service, which lasted for 27 years until it was retired in 2003.