This article is part of Urban Expeditions series, an initiative made possible by a grant from United Technologies to the National Geographic Society.
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Orville Wright piloted the world’s first flight on December 17, 1903, marking the dawn of air travel. By the 1930s—the most innovative era of flight—dramatic leaps in design and technology paved the way for the modern jet age. While aviation advanced with each new model, the civilian aircraft illustrated below were transformative, pushing boundaries, elevating standards, and opening the skies to the masses: today about 600,000 people are in flight in any given minute. Driven by efforts to reduce aviation’s environmental impact, the next generation of flight may be defined by otherworldly designs. —Kelsey Nowakowski