National Aviation Day is observed in the US every year on 19 August to celebrate the history and development of aviation. First established by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1939, the date was chosen to coincide with aviation pioneer Orville Wright’s birthday, and celebrates the amazing advancements that have been made since the Wright Brothers inaugural flight back in 1903.
To celebrate this wonderful industry that we are fortunate enough to work in, we’ve taken a look back at some of the most famous aviators, their incredible achievements and how these have shaped and influenced the modern aviation industry of today.
The Wright Brothers
Wilbur and Orville Wright are two American brothers credited with inventing the world’s first successful motor-operated airplane. On December 17th 1903, they made the first controlled, sustained flight of a powered aircraft in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.
From the very beginning of their aeronautical pursuit, their focus was on designing a reliable method of pilot control, rather than trying to develop powerful engines as other experimenters were, to enable human flight. The brothers studied birds and observed how they moved and angled their wings to allow for balance and control during flight, which led to the ‘wing warping’ concept.
Self-taught engineers, the Wright brothers gained their mechanical expertise by working in a pressing shop in Dayton, Ohio. They believed that unstable vehicles could be controlled and balanced with practice and so conducted extensive glider tests which also enabled them to develop their Pilot skills.
Thanks to a small, home-made wind tunnel, they were able to collect accurate information which led to the design and build of their three-axis flight control system, their greatest contribution to manned flight which forever changed the landscape of aviation and is remains standard on fixed-wing aircraft.
Amelia Earhart was an American aviation pioneer and author, and the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.
In 1928, she became the first female passenger to cross the Atlantic by airplane, an event which saw her catapulted into the limelight. Departing on 17 June, the team took off from Newfoundland and landed 20 hours and 40 minutes later in South Wales, UK.
Shortly after her return in August 1928, Amelia set off on her first solo flight, becoming the first woman to fly solo across the North American continent.
Amelia was a firm advocate for female pilots, and became involved in The Ninety Nines, an organisation that provides moral support for the advancement of women in aviation and still operates to this day.
In 1932, she successfully completed a non-stop transatlantic flight, becoming the first woman to do so. Amelia took off from Newfoundland on May 10, intending to head for Paris. The flight lasted 14 hours and 56 minutes, with Amelia landing her Lockheed Vega 5B in Derry, Northern Ireland. She received great recognition and many awards for this accomplishment, and was determined to continue breaking records.
On 17 March 1937, Amelia and her crew set off from California in an attempt to complete the longest flight around the world. When her Lockheed L10 Electra became damaged, the flight was called off and the aircraft was sent for repair. On 1 June 1937, Amelia and her navigator Fred Noonan left Miami on their second attempt at this record, and completed nearly 22,000 miles of their 29,000 mile journey before they mysteriously disappeared over the Pacific Ocean on 2 July 1937. The unresolved circumstances of Earhart and Noonan’s disappearance has led to many conspiracy theories over the years, but no one really knows what happened to these two pioneering aviators on that fateful day.
Charles Lindbergh was an American aviator and military officer. He rose to international fame in 1927 when at the age of 25 he made the first non-stop solo transatlantic flight from New York to Paris.
Lindbergh undertook the 33.5 hour flight on his own in a single-engine Ryan monoplane named the Spirit of St Louis. This momentous achievement was not only the first solo transatlantic flight, but was also the first transatlantic flight between two major cities and the longest by almost 2,000 miles, and was considered a fundamental turning point in aviation development, revolutionising the industry.
Lindbergh had shown an interest in aviation from a very young age, but could never afford the damage bond required to enable him to fly solo. He travelled across the US to work as a wing walker and parachutist to gain flight experience and earn money for flight instruction. In 1925, Lindbergh began his employment with the Robertson Aircraft Corporation in Missouri to lay out and then serve as Chief Pilot for the 278 mile Contract Air Mail route. In 1927, he arrived in San Diego to oversee the design and construction of the Spirit of St Louis.
Although the world’s first non-stop transatlantic flight was made in 1919 by British aviators John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown, Raymond Orteig, prompted by the Aero Club of America, put up a $25,000 reward for the first successful non-stop solo transatlantic flight. This prize attracted a number of attempts by several experienced and well-financed contenders, but none were successful.
In the early hours of May 20 1927, Lindbergh took off from Long Island, destined for Paris. He faced a perilous journey, navigating by ‘dead reckoning’ and fortuitously having zero wind drift thanks to the Atlantic winds cancelling each other out. He landed 7 miles northeast of the city at 10.22pm on 21 May, originally mistaking the aerodrome for a large industrial unit thanks to the bright lights surrounding the airfield, all caused by a crowd of some 150,000 people who had come to see him land.
Lindbergh used his fame to promote the US air mail service, piloting a series of special flights over his old CAM route in 1928. He was also instrumental in the design of the Longines Lindbergh Watch, designed to help pilots with navigation. First produced in 1931, this timeless watch remains in production today.
National Aviation Day is a wonderful celebration of the aviators who have significantly contributed to the modern aviation industry over the years. Read more about some of these incredible people and their amazing achievements here.