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Unfamous Aviation Seconds

We all know the planes and pilots that were first to do something monumental. But do you know who the second ones to those same achievements were? Neither did we. But their stories, when we can dig them up, are very cool.

The Douglas Skyrocket is the second supersonic plane model. Photo courtesy of NASA.
The Douglas Skyrocket is the second supersonic plane model. Photo courtesy of NASA.

We live in a country and a world that attaches big bonuses to finishing first, and that includes record-setting feats. In baseball, Babe Ruth’s name is famous. And if you’re a fan, and maybe even if you aren’t, you might know that Ruth was, in 1927, the first player to hit 60 home runs in a season. Did you also know that Ruth was also the first in the modern era of Major League Baseball history to reach the milestones of 30, 40 and 50 home runs in a season? But who was second? Off the top of my head, I know that Roger Maris, also a New York Yankee at the time, was the second to hit at least 60, in 1961. The other seconds? I’d have to look them up and likely wouldn’t recognize the names once I found them.

As far as aviation milestones are concerned, it’s pretty much the same deal. Chuck Yeager was first to bust the sound barrier (aka Mach 1), but who was second? And what was the second supersonic plane? Chances are you don’t know—we didn’t. Even more than that, it’s often really hard to find out who those unfamous seconds were. So, here, we salute those who came in second in the race to immortality.

7. Second to circumnavigate the globe

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7. Second to circumnavigate the globe

Again, this is a tough one, but for more complicated reasons than the English Channel crossing record is. That’s at least in part due to how the definition of circumnavigating the globe has changed. The problem is, it’s not easy to define what it is to circumnavigate the globe. Would doing one turn about a point around the True North Pole count as a circumnavigation? Clearly not. But how far from the equator would the flight have to be in order to qualify? Plus, it’s not clear how much help one can get. Further complicating the process is that there seems to be a need for a time limit. Plus, the political realities of the process are very real. The list of countries whose airspace one needs to pass through and/or land in to get around the globe is not long, and over the years many have been openly hostile to foreigners. So, who was second to circumnavigate the globe after Wiley Post, the American pilot who took a little over a week to accomplish the feat? Well, it could be Australian aviator Charles Kingsford Smith—that is, if he wasn’t first to do it, as many discount Post’s record because he didn’t cross the equator at some point along the way.


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