Columbia Metropolitan | By Rachel Haynie
Columbians joined world citizens in their fascination with flight when the innovation soared to a start early in the 20th century. But this air-minded capital city earned its civic wings in some unique, yet lesser-known, ways. Even as the Wright brothers’ ambitious experiment lofted at Kitty Hawk in neighboring North Carolina, two inventors with Upcountry South Carolina ties were neck and neck in the race for first in flight.
Charles Manly, whose father was president of Furman University, worked closely with Samuel P. Langley on the development of their steam-powered Aerodrome, successfully launched from the Potomac River in early May 1896. Alexander Graham Bell witnessed the Manly-Langley achievement, which also introduced the world’s first aircraft carrier, a houseboat.
Historically the first aircraft to fly, the initially unmanned Aerodrome was fueled both by steam and gasoline engines. Next, it was manned with Manly as test pilot, establishing a South Carolinian as this nation’s first airplane designer, engineer, and mechanic — and first airplane pilot.