Get ready to celebrate! August 19 marks the 80th annual National Aviation Day – a holiday dedicated to honoring aviation’s achievements and pioneers of flight.
As readers of this magazine, I think it’s safe to assume that aviation has impacted your life in some way. The majority of you are owner-pilots and chief pilots who live and breathe this amazing industry every day. But how often do we take a step back to reflect and appreciate aviation’s beginnings?
To commemorate the anniversary, I thought it’d be interesting to dive into the origins of the holiday. Join me as we journey back in time.
In 1939, Americans could purchase a house for $4,000, a car for $700 and fuel for 10 cents. The Great Depression was wrapping up its decade-long era, while more turmoil was just around the corner with the onset of WWII. “Gone With the Wind” and “The Wizard of Oz” were topping the box office. In the midst of all this, aviation was growing by leaps and bounds.
To honor that triumphant growth and its impact, National Aviation Day was established in 1939 by Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR), who issued a presidential proclamation designating Orville Wright’s birthday (August 19) as a day to observe and celebrate the developments of aviation. From the Wright brothers first flight in 1903 up to FDR’s proclamation, aviation made incredible strides in a relatively short period of time. Below is a just an abbreviated list of the milestones during that period.
- 1903 – First powered flight
- 1908 – First passenger flight
- 1910 – First commercial flight school opened
- 1917 – First airline founded
- 1918 – National air mail service begins
- 1923 – First transcontinental nonstop flight
- 1924 – First aerial circumnavigation
- 1927 – First solo nonstop trans-Atlantic flight
- 1932 – First woman flies across Atlantic
- 1933 – A modern airliner (Boeing 247) flies
- 1935 – Boeing designs first pressurized airliner
- 1939 – Pan American begins transatlantic passenger service
It is also interesting to note that total aircraft production in 1939 for the U.S. military was less than 3,000 planes. By the end of WWII, America produced 300,000 planes (96,318 were produced in 1944 alone). Aircraft manufacturing swept the nation, going from 41st place among American industries to first place in less than five years.
Fast forward to today and there are currently 220,000 registered civilian aircraft registered in the U.S. Here are the latest numbers provided by the FAA regarding air traffic:
- Average daily flights handled by FAA – 44,000
- Total aircraft in the sky at peak times – 5,000
- Number of air traffic control towers – 518
- General aviation flight hours per year – 25,212,000
- U.S. airports – 19,622 (5,092 public, 14,530 private)
- Number of passengers flown yearly in the U.S. – 1 billion
- U.S. jobs generated from aviation – 10,600,000
Ways to Celebrate
Needless to say, it is worth celebrating how far we have come, so let’s do it: Go on a trip; share the joy of flight by taking someone flying; read an aviation book (I enjoyed “The Wright Brothers”); share a post on social media with hashtag #NationalAviationDay; volunteer with an aviation organization; visit your local airport or aviation museum.
Let us never forget how lucky we are for others’ contributions to flight. Happy National Aviation Day.