National Aviation Day — August 19
America, First in Flight
In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued a proclamation designating the anniversary of Orville Wright's birthday, August 19, as National Aviation Day. It has been celebrated every year since, with each sitting president determining the scope of the observations (usually with flying the United States flag in addition to related events).
Of course, Orville Wright, along with his brother, Wilbur, are credited with the inventing, developing, and operating the world's first motor-powered airplane, in addition to aircraft controls that made fixed-wing flight possible.
Remarkable American Aviators
Orville and Wilbur Wright certainly paved the way for advancements in aviation around the world, but they also energized immense interest in aviation in the United States that has persisted even to this day. Some of humanity's most notable achievements in aviation were performed by Americans.
Amelia Earhart was the first woman to pilot an aircraft nonstop across the Atlantic Ocean, a feat for which she received the United States Distinguished Flying Cross. Amelia has been recognized on an international scale for her piloting acumen, her leadership in the field of aeronautics, her prowess as a best-selling author, and for being a model of courage and independence to women.
Bessie Coleman, a.k.a. Queen Bess or Brave Bessie, was the first African American Woman and the first Native American to hold a pilot's license. Unfortunately, Bessie grew up in Texas at a time when people of color were not allowed to obtain flying lessons or to be licensed. So Bessie learned French, saved her money, and set off to France where she earned her pilot's license from the Swiss-based Fédération Aéronautique Internationale. From there she went on to be a high-profile star of notoriously dangerous airshows in the United States.
The "Lindbergh Boom," or the massive increase in interest in aviation that swept the globe, was brought about by Charles Lindbergh's most famous achievement; a solo, non-stop, trans-Atlantic flight from New York City to Paris in May of 1927. The trip earned him prestige in the form of the United States' highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor; and fame in being the first recipient of Time magazine's Man of the Year award. Lindbergh continued to be an aviator, inventor, and author for much of the rest of his life, but this event is largely considered to be one of the biggest turning points in aviation history.
Chuck Yeager began his aviation career as normally as any other pilot — he was an aircraft mechanic in the United States Air Force that was fortuitously allowed to enter pilot training. Yeager was a figter pilot in World War II, earning status as an Ace in A Day (five enemy planes shot down in a single mission). Afterward, Yeager became a test pilot for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, and performed his most well-known achievement: while flying a rocket-powered Bell X-1 in 1947, Chuck Yeager became the first human to officially break the sound barrier.
While several astronauts lay claim to one-of-a-kind accomplishments and moments, when it comes to America's legacy in space Alan Shepherd will be remembered for being the one who started it all, the one who gave it the most, and the one who - true to his namesake - guided NASA through one of its most heralded eras. Among his achievements, Alan Shepherd is the first American (second human) to reach space, the fifth human to walk on the surface of the Moon, and the oldest human to walk on the surface of the Moon. Alan Shepherd was a test pilot, a naval aviator, and an astronaut who, just before passing away in 1998, humorously stated, "So far I'm the only person to have hit a golf ball on the moon." He hit two.
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