National Aviation Day on August 19 should make us stop and think about the power of flight. Yet, some scientific and technological marvels become so commonplace that we seldom take the time to re-examine their revolutionary impact with an open and inquisitive mind. In just a handful of generations, aviation went from pure, pie-in-the-sky speculation to a mundane reality that inspires about as much wonder as a trip aboard a Greyhound bus.
It’s that ho-hum attitude to the miracle of flight that makes National Aviation Day such an excellent national observation. Plus, it takes place on Orville Wright’s birthday!
Let’s take a closer look.
National Aviation Day timeline
- December 17, 1903
Orville pilots a plane
The Wright Brothers — with Orville at the helm and Wilbur making a final wing adjustment — completed the first sustained flight of a heavier-than-air aircraft on a spit of land four miles south of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.
- August 19, 1871
Brother Orville is born
Orville Wright was born in Dayton, Ohio. His older brother, Wilbur, had been born in Millville, Indiana, on April 16, 1867.
Cayley is the "father of aviation"
Sir George Cayley, an English engineer, described the model for a modern airplane — a fixed-wing machine with lift, propulsion and control mechanisms.
- 9th Century AD
An Andalusian takes flight
Abbas ibn Firnas is said to have covered himself with feathers, attached wings to his body and (according to Algerian historian Ahmed Mohammed al-Maqqari) "flew a considerable distance."
- 1st Century AD
Legend has it that Chinese Emperor Wang Mang ordered a soldier to strap two wings to his back. The soldier, covered in bird feathers, flew 100 meters.
National Aviation Day Activities
Take a trip to North Carolina
What better way to commemorate the achievements of the Wright brothers than by flying to North Carolina and visiting the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills? Think of it as a pilgrimage to the spot where American flight first took off.
Build your own airplane
It doesn't have to be a real one, of course. You can build an airplane using Legos. Or, you can go for that old school-days standby — the paper plane.
Gather with a group of friends where you can watch airplanes taking off and landing. Bring food if the spirit moves you — a "planespotting" picnic!
5 High-flying Facts About Aviation
There aren't that many aviophobes
Although it may seem like a lot of people are afraid to fly, aviophobia afflicts only about 6.5 percent of the population.
Maybe that's because so few have flown
Worldwide, only about 5 percent of the population has been on an airplane.
A president flies
The first U.S. president to fly in an airplane was the adventurous Theodore Roosevelt, who flew in a Wright Flyer on October 11, 1910.
It started with bicycles
The Wright Brothers got their mechanical training as owners of a bicycle shop.
Who needs an engine?
A Boeing 747 without engine power can glide about two miles for every 1,000 feet or so that the plane is above the ground.
Why We Love National Aviation Day
We always choose the window seat
Yes, some of us still stare in wonder out the plane's window as we ponder something that seems delightfully impossible. We are, after all, sitting inside a giant flying machine traveling many hundreds of miles per hour, thousands of feet above the landscape below. How can this be?
Space is the final frontier
Many of the mechanical, technological and scientific breakthroughs in space travel would be unthinkable without the advancements inspired by the Wright Brothers' original experiments on a sandy strip of North Carolina coastline.
The proclamation is simple and beautiful
The National Aviation Day proclamation invites "the people of the United States to observe National Aviation Day with appropriate exercises to further stimulate interest in aviation in the United States." In short, it's a day to keep planes on the membrane!