The history of aviation

Who has never dreamt of flying? Humans have been longing for flying from times immemorial. The most important stages of the Hungarian history of aviation were documented not only by written records. They are revived by contemporary photos and newsreels:  zeppelins, world-war bombers and hydroplanes. For example, photos prove that the idea of Zeppelin’s famous airship is actually the Hungarian Dávid Schwarz’s merit. In the 1920s, the Danube had important hydroplane traffic as well besides the ship transport, moreover on Lake Balaton, too. Our pilots conquered the sky not only above Hungary: László Almásy, our famous Africa explorer stood in front of the camera with the Pyramids of Giza in the background. After World War II, aviation was run by Maszovlet on the basis of an agreement with the Soviet Union and Hungary. Malév (the Hungarian Airlines) was established on 25 November 1954 and operated as an emblematic company of Hungary until 2012

The ancestor airplane, the airship

 As of the first successful balloon flights, a demand emerged for such an aircraft that is not exposed to moody winds, but can be controlled and driven. Although control remained unsolved until the invention of the propeller and a power resource fitted on the aircraft, the invention of the airship was a huge leap in the history of aviation. The machine designed by Schwarz took off first on 3 November 1897, which was witnessed by Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin as well. During the flight, one of the propellers stopped at the height of 460 metres and the airship damaged seriously when landing. Nevertheless, experts stated about Schwarz’s airship that ‘his idea proves that the method of making and driving a metal airship has been found’.

After Schwarz’s death, Ferdinand von Zeppelin purchased the patent in 1898 and two years later he launched the production of the first experimental passenger airship which was made of aluminium with hard internal frame.

Beginnings of organized aviation life

In Hungary, the first association was formed by the air balloon pilots in 1902. The organization became well known as the Hungarian Aero Club, but despite its name the club was unwilling to extend its activity to heavier-than-air craft aviation cases, thus the Hungarian Automobile Club formed an aviator committee. They undertook the affairs of aviation and wanted to boost the Hungarian aviation life by purchasing Wright aircrafts and organizing shows.


World War I and afterwards

The First World War brought about a rapid development in the aircraft industry, though the development was represented in the military adaptability mainly. One of the first civil aircrafts designed in this period was the Junkers F-13. This type, which gained its fame not only with its modern metal construction, had an adventurous role in the contemporary history of Hungary. King Charles IV used it during his second attempt of return on 20 October 1921 when he flew from Zurich-Dubendorf to Dénesfa. After the failure of the coup, the aircraft was confiscated, because aviation was banned according to the Treaty of Trianon. Aircrafts were allowed only for museum purposes, this is why it was taken to the Transport Museum, where it is still guarded. The German ‘air-giant’ Junkers can be seen on a newsreel from 1930.

If you look at the right side of the former Franz Joseph bridge now Szabadság (Liberty) bridge on the Buda bridge-head you can find a memorial tablet with the following inscription: ‘Between 1923 and 1926, the hydroplane station of the air transport Aeroexpress Corp. was standing in this place.’ The aviation ban was eased in 1922 finally, thus air traffic could be restarted. Airlines to Vienna and Lake Balaton among others also took off here. The most famous pilot of the company was György Endresz, who flew over the ocean later in 1931.

During the Second World War, László Almásy was in service as a reconnoitring officer in Rommel’s army, because on the African battle-field Germans needed experts who knew the desert perfectly. One of the most exciting secret actions, the Operation Salam is also related to his name.

After the war, the Hungarian air traffic was ensured by Soviet aircrafts mostly. Ilyushin Il-18 type is a passenger plane equipped with a four-propeller gas turbine, developed in the Soviet Union in the 1950s. Later it was also used as a transporter aircraft and in other special scopes; even military versions were made, and they still fly in several countries. Regarding the Hungarian aviation life, Malév operated this type between 1960 and 1989. The pressure-cabin of Il-18 and its speed that exceeded earlier possibilities meant a milestone in the history of the company. Malév could reach destinations outside Europe as well with these airplanes. As of the 1970s, the new Tupolev jet airliners of Malév crowded out gradually the Ilyushin airliners that flew only with cargo during the 1980s.

MALÉV  TU-134-es típusú gázturbinás repülőgépe - Magyar Kereskedelmi és Vendéglátóipari Múzeum, CC BY-NC-NDAlthough during the 2000s it was perceptible that the economic background of the company is unstable, everything seemed all right until 2012. At 6 o’clock in the morning on 3 February 2012, Malév suspended its aviation activities officially, which put an end to one of the most important periods in the Hungarian history of aviation.


Special thanks to Mr. Attila Szabó (Deputy Head of Transport Museological Departmant at the Transport Museum) for surveying the text.

Translated by Zita Aknai


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