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I'm taking a guess and assuming the Wright Flyer was incapable of flying upside down. I'm just guessing it probably lacked the power... ;)

So what was the first plane that could fly inverted for a sustained period of time (10sec+) with full power? I'm assuming you would need an engine that was okay being upside down*, and had the power to get you high enough to make the maneuver safe. Then you'd need an airfoil that worked inverted (some of the high early cambered wings may have had problems, for example) and controls that functioned in that environment as well. Probably a seat belt would be useful too.

Anybody know what plane was the first one to have all of these, and then went ahead and flew upside down?

Bonus points: I also wouldn't mind knowing what plane was the first to simply fly inverted, even if for a brief moment...

*As Jan Hudec pointed out, the engine itself doesn't really care, but the fuel system might. So really we should be asking when the first fuel system that could go upside down was produced...

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The engine itself does not care whether it is upside down. The carburettor and the fuel system do. So whether the engine is radial does not matter (many early engines were actually rotary). –  Jan Hudec Jun 3 at 14:02
    
@JanHudec Ah, good to know. I'll amend the question in a moment here. –  Jay Carr Jun 3 at 14:04
    
The other factor is whether the wings are capable of flying inverted. Highly cambered wings (that were common on the early planes) may not be able to. –  Jan Hudec Jun 3 at 14:24
    
@JanHudec Added that thought in as well. –  Jay Carr Jun 3 at 14:47
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@JanHudec In addition to the fuel system the lubrication system often cares about the aircraft's orientation (at least on opposed engines like the ones many of us fly behind) As an example most of the Lycoming IO-360 variants are not designed for aerobatics/inverted flight - for that you would need an engine from the AEIO-360 series. –  voretaq7 Jun 3 at 15:48

2 Answers 2

up vote 14 down vote accepted

The answer is probably indeed A. Pegoud with a Bleriot monoplane in the fall of 1913, as answered by RedGrittyBrick. After that, a real craze started in Europe with stunt pilots flying briefly inverted at air shows.

The first purpose-designed airplane for inverted flight was probably a Grade monoplane which flew first in the spring of 1914. I have found this picture enter image description here
on a Russian web page which lists lots of photos from early issues of Flight magazine. You have to scroll down 80% to find it. It gives the name as "Tweer monoplane", but it was actually built by the Grade aircraft factory right after the inverted flying craze was started by Pegoud. Gustav Tweer was an aerobatics pilot (one of many at this time), who was famous for diving his airplane almost into the ground at flight shows.

This airplane was designed for inverted landings, and with the uncambered wing I would expect that also the fuel system was adapted for inverted flight, however, there is no mention of that anywhere I have searched.

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What a delightfully ridiculous flying contraption! I don't know if I'm more amused by the idea of landing it inverted or the scimitar propeller on what Wikipedia claims would be a 16HP engine. –  voretaq7 Jun 3 at 15:54
    
@voretaq: These were the days when aircraft were not designed for war, but for air shows. The Wikipedia article concerns the first Grade monoplane from 1909, and I would expect that the inverted-V four cylinder engine in the picture above was a different engine with more power. –  Peter Kämpf Jun 3 at 16:19
    
@PeterKämpf Wow, that's amazing. This certainly looks like it was designed to fly upside down, so long as nothing came before it, it must be first, right? I just wish we had some details on it's design so we could know what they did to make it good for flying upside down (aside from the crazy landing gear configuration.) –  Jay Carr Jun 3 at 16:26
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@CGCampbell: It is neither reversed nor backwards. It is normal right-hand (clockwise rotating) propeller and just like modern scimitar propellers the leading edge is curved. –  Jan Hudec Jun 3 at 17:05
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@PeterKämpf "Wars are just airshows with bigger fireworks displays!" –  voretaq7 Jun 3 at 17:41

Deliberate momentarily inverted flight

The first reported deliberately inverted flight was probably in a Blériot model XI.

enter image description here

Inverted flight was also being considered. Several pilots had inadvertently found themselves upside down as a result of wind gusts, but no one had yet attempted it intentionally. Adolphe Pegoud decided he would be the one to try.

Pegoud was one of the first true aerobatic pilots. An accomplished test pilot with the Bleriot team, he was also the first flyer to jump from a plane with a parachute. Both Pegoud and the aircraft landed, unharmed. Having decided to try upside-down flying, Pegoud first practiced in a hanger in a plane hung upside down from the ceiling. He correctly assumed the controls would have to be operated in a reverse manner and he wanted to get the feel of it before actually flying.

It must have worked. Shortly thereafter, Pegoud made the first public demonstration of inverted flight in September of 1913. During this flight, he was the first to perform a half roll to an inverted position--another aerobatic maneuver was born. The flight did point out one potential problem: While Pegoud was prepared to fly inverted, the aircraft was not. It proceeded to drench the flyer with fuel!

From The history of aerobatics

Deliberate sustained inverted flight

This would have to have been an aerobatic aircraft specially modified for inverted flight

  • flop tubes in the fuel tank?
  • fuel-injection not carburettor?
  • strengthened and/or braced to allow wings to support fuselage in inverted position?

1925

June 1925, No 32 Squadron did an air display demonstrating Flight-converging bombing at the R.A.F Display, Hendon. Scott was selected to do individual aerobatics in a brand-new Snipe which he was allowed to paint red, this pleased Scott greatly as it meant that he was also allowed to practice his aerobatics at a low altitude, rather than above 2000 feet which was R.A.F regulations at that time. In Scott's book he tells of how for his solo display he was allotted exactly seven minutes during the luncheon break, to complete his show but after just two minutes, a flying wire broke in the near edge of the port side, anxious not to cut his allotted seven minutes down too much he began to fly the aircraft upside down in an effort to reduce the strain on the flying wires, he continued flying in an inverted position for some time until he noticed a worrying quiver in the top plane and promptly landed slightly short of his seven minutes.

From Wikipedia

1933 record

In 1933, NC872H, a Boeing 100, was flown inverted for 4 hours 5 minutes and 22 seconds.

enter image description here

After its career with Pratt & Whitney, the Museum of Flight's aircraft was sold to Milo Burcham on September 27, 1933. He modified it for skywriting and air-show work, painted it blood red, added fuel and oil systems for inverted flight, and flew it upside down from Los Angeles to San Diego.

From Seattle Museum of Flight

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lol, yeah, definitely not a plane that was designed with it in mind. But hey, you got the bonus question it seems :). Well, the first one anyway, that second one was ready for it, but it sounds like that plane was far from the first. –  Jay Carr Jun 3 at 14:45
    
Lots of really good information @RedGrittyBrick, but I think Peter answered the title question so I marked his as right. Apologies, I really enjoyed your answer! –  Jay Carr Jun 3 at 16:27
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During WW2 the RAF used carburettors. They operated on a swivel system which which would allow them to rotate towards the ground and operate normally –  deadlyDev Jun 3 at 20:24

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