The Wright Brothers were the startup entrepreneurs of 1900.

They were born tinkerers, taking skills from a printing shop to open a bike repair shop.

After reading about aeronautics in the late 1890s, the two began experimenting with biplane kites and gliders. With a little funding, they added a propeller to the plan and were ready to go.

On December 17th, 1903, three days after a failed attempt, the duo were ready to try it again.

The first flight, by Orville Wright, took place at 10:35am on December 17th, 1903 – a 120 foot (37 m) flight lasting 12 seconds.

Celebrating the anniversary of this first flight, we’re taking a look at nine most amazing things you should know about air cargo.

The Flyer, Kitty Hawk, 1903

#1 First air cargo flight: 1910

That came a mere seven years later, in 1910, when a Wright Model B aircraft was flown 65 miles (105 km) to deliver 200 pounds (91 kg) of silk from Dayton to Columbus. One of the  10 bolts of silk, which was bright pink, was later cut up and distributed as souvenirs.

And it wasn’t long before more companies got involved….

#2 Craziest air cargo market entry: DHL Express

DHL Express’ air courier service really took off when its founder, Larry Hillblom, saw a niche for courier delivery – making ocean shipping faster. Hillblom would fly ocean bill of ladings from San Francisco to Honolulu in advance of the ship’s landing, speeding up paperwork at the port and saving days (or even weeks) at ports. Today DHL Express boasts a fleet of approximately 120 airplanes. The company still aggressively pursues innovation.

#3 Largest air cargo plane: Antonov An-225

The largest air cargo plane in the world is the Antonov An-225 Mriya, which can take off with a maximum weight of 640 tons (580 tonnes). It is the longest airplane ever created – it’s wingspan is 290 feet (88 m), more than double the Wright Brother’s first flight of 120 feet (37 m). The airplane, while huge, is tiny compared to the Maersk EEE.

Antonov An-225 Mriya

#4 Longest scheduled air cargo route:

Dubai to Panama City (Emirates)

Coming up in February 2016, Emirates are starting a regular 8,588 mi (13,821 km) service between Dubai, UAE and Panama City, Panama. That’s an exhausting 17 hours 35 minutes traveling westbound. Talk about long-haul. Sure it’s a primarily a passenger flight, but the plane can carry up to 16 tons (15 tonnes) of cargo in its belly.

#5 Most Evil Genius Cargo: Lasers


Source: Imugr

We stumbled over this countdown of the ten craziest things ever shoved into a plane. At number 3 is a giant freaking laser, capable of blasting ballistic missiles to smithereens in mid-air. Or, as it’s known at the US Department of Defense, the Boeing YAL-1 Airborne Laser Testbed. After the project was cancelled, the plane was moved to storage in Arizona.

Check out the full list, which also includes 200,000 lb. (91 tonnes) of dog food flavoring, a herd of cows, and the entire Dakar Car Rally.

#6 Heaviest Load Delivery:  418,834 pounds

It’s the Anatov again. This whale of a plane once swallowed a gas power station generator weighing 418,834 pounds (190 tonnes) – the current world record for a single-item air-lifted payload. It also holds the world record for total air-lifted payload 559,577 pounds (254 tonnes).

#7 Highest altitude delivery: 250 miles 

It starts off in the air at least, but soon moves beyond the atmosphere. Two private companies are contracted by NASA to deliver cargo to the International Space Station, orbiting the planet 250 miles (400 kms) up there. In mid-December, the latest cargo load to make the 5 day journey was 7,700lb (3.5 tonnes) of food, clothing, computer gear, spacewalk equipment, science experiments and other supplies.

#8 First FAA Approved Drone Delivery: July 2015

Amazon’s been running tests out of a field in Washington but in July 2015, Flirtey, an Australian UAC (unmanned aerial vehicle) delivery startup, delivered supplies from an airfield to a medical clinic in Virginia. The supplies had been brought to the airfield by a NASA drone. That drone doesn’t count because, although it was controlled from the ground, for safety reasons it included a pilot.

A natural progression from model aircraft, the first drone prototypes in the 1970s were modified lawnmowers designed to carry bombs.

#9 Busiest air cargo airport: Hong Kong Airport

Topping the 2014 list of the world’s busiest airports by cargo traffic is Hong Kong International Airport,  with 4.8 million tons (4.4 million tonnes) of  loaded and unloaded freight. Memphis International Airport comes in 2nd.

Perhaps the most surprising entry (at least for those not in the industry) is the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport at number 5. FedEx Express and UPS Airlines operate major hubs for cargo heading to and from North East Asia.

Hong Kong Airport Image: Flickr

Bonus: Air/ocean spot rate ratio sky-high

The rule of thumb for cargo spot rates is that air cargo is about 11 times more expensive than sea freight. Well, not any more. The Loadstar recently reported that while air freight rates are rising moderately, sea freights rates have been plunging, catapulting the air-sea freight multiplier from 11 to 22. That is, double the standard rule of thumb, which is a record.

And it is predicted to stay around this level for the foreseeable future.

This is bad news for some commodities of air cargo. In recent years, improvements in systems and processes for both shippers and carriers has made the prospect of making a modal shift from air to sea more feasible. And the current large multiplier makes switching an even more financially attractive option.

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