In 1939, Franklin D. Roosevelt issued a presidential proclamation designating August 19 as National Aviation Day. He chose that day because it was Orville Wright’s birthday. This was 36 years after the Wright Brothers flew the first heavier-than-air flying machine in 1903. By 1939, aviation was a booming industry in the United States and around the world.
New world speed and distance records were set, airlines that still exist today were formed, and when World War II began, the Allied and Axis powers sought new ways to strengthen the role of aviation in warfare.
FDR offers a free drink of aviation gin
In 1939, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) – NASA’s organizational predecessor — was 24 years old and already well established as the nation’s premier aeronautical research lab in Virginia. That year, a brand new center was approved for construction in California.
The fundamental problems of flight were being solved by engineers on drawing boards and in NACA wind tunnels, allowing planes to fly faster, higher, farther and with more and more cargo and passengers.
NASA offers ideas to celebrate National Aviation Day
In celebration of National Aviation Day, Jim Banke, communications specialist with the Aeronautical Research Missions Branch, offers a list of possible activities to send the holidays into the skies.
1. Spread your wings
Ask someone to take a picture of you and your friends or loved ones stretching your arms out like the wings of an airplane. Tell us how you are celebrating the flight on Thursday August 19th. Post your photo on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or any other social media. Be sure to tag it with #NationalAviationDay so NASA can see it!
2. Remember NASA is with you when you travel
Are you traveling by plane today or soon? Once you’ve settled into your assigned seat, buckle up, make sure your seatback and flip-top are in the full upright position, then take a moment and think NASA. Why? Well, it might not be immediately apparent to you, but every American aircraft and air traffic control tower in use today uses some sort of technology developed by NASA.
Before taking off, take a look in the cockpit. See all electronic displays? They constitute what is called the glass cockpit. NASA has conducted preliminary tests on using the displays to replace heavier and obsolete dials and gauges.
Now look out your window. See the vertical extension on the wingtip of your plane? It’s a fin. It was developed by NASA to reduce drag. Used for nearly 20 years, winglets have saved billions of gallons of fuel, according to the industry. And they even reduce aircraft noise a little.
Then there are the things you won’t see. It could be technology buried deep in your jet engine to help it run more efficiently, or it could be computer software installed in air traffic control centers to help controllers manage your flight, door to door, more efficiently with reduced delays. , all in a more environmentally friendly way.
3. Visit your local science museum or NASA Visitor Center
Exhibits on aviation and flying an airplane are staples of local science museums. Check your local science center to see if they’re open and how they handle aviation, and even if they don’t, it never hurts to spend some time learning about science.
Visitor centers at NASA’s Langley Research Center near Norfolk, Va., and the Glenn Research Center in Cleveland — two of NASA’s four field centers that conduct aeronautical research — are open. For more information on these and other facilities associated with NASA, visit this resource page.
4. Watch an aviation-themed movie
There’s no shortage of classic aviation-themed movies to watch. NASA aviation staff favorites include Jimmy Stewart’s “The Spirit of St. Louis” or “Strategic Air Command” – or, more recently, Amazon Prime’s “The Aeronauts,” “Living in the Age of National Geographic’s Airplanes” or Disney’s animation “Airplanes.” Movies that combine aviation and space can be fun, like “The Right Stuff” or the documentary “One More Orbit,” which tells how former NASA astronaut Terry Virts tries to break the speed record for circle the earth above the poles in a business jet.
5. Take an introductory flight lesson
Pilots will tell you that there is a wonderful sense of freedom in flying, not to mention the incredible views and sense of personal accomplishment that comes from mastering the skills required to fly. At the same time, being a pilot isn’t for everyone – but you’ll only know that if you try!
Most general aviation airports in the country have a flight school that offers an introductory flight lesson at a discounted price. Many airports have flying clubs that will introduce you to flying. You can also check if there is a Civil Air Patrol in your region.
And if you want a taste of flight from the cockpit without leaving the ground, commercial desktop flight simulators such as X-Plane 11 or Microsoft’s new flight simulator are popular choices and can take you into the virtual sky by not much time.
6. Build an airplane
Why not? It doesn’t have to be big enough to fly in – although DIY airplane kits are available if you have the money, time and persistence to complete the job.
Assembling a small plastic model kit of one of the world’s most historic aircraft can be equally rewarding and equally educational, especially for young children who may be considering a career as an aerospace engineer or technician.
Many astronauts will tell you that their love of aviation and space began with assembling models when they were children. Another idea: grab some LEGO bricks and build your dream plane, or maybe one based on real NASA work like these people did.
Or make it easy for yourself: fold a paper airplane like this NASA’s X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology aircraft and pull it across the room. Sometimes simplicity works best.
7. Tell us about your first flight
For National Aviation Day in 2014, NASA asked people for stories about their first flights. NASA received some big ones, and they would like to hear from you about the first time you flew in an airplane. Post your story online and be sure to use #NationalAviationDay so they can find you. Tell them about the first time you took to the air. Where were you travelling? Why? Do you remember what kind of plane it was? Were you thrilled or a little scared?
8. Follow what we are doing to transform aviation
NASA aeronautical innovators are working to transform air travel to meet the future needs of the global aviation community. There are several ways NASA does this. Improve the aerodynamics of an aircraft, reduce the amount of fuel used by aircraft, make aircraft of all sizes quieter, decrease the amount of harmful emissions released into the atmosphere, work with the Federal Aviation Administration to improve the effectiveness of air traffic control – the list could go on for several thousand more words. Bookmark the NASA Aeronautics homepage and follow NASA on Twitter @NASAaero.
There are also great educational resources that not only help you learn more about NASA aeronautical research, but also about aviation in general. Visit our Cool Aero Stuff to download fact sheets, coloring pages for kids, mini-posters and more. Even more fun things to do at home can be found here.
9. Visit your local library or download a NASA e-book
Aviation-themed books, whether factual or fictional, are all over the shelves of your local library – literally. This is because there is no single Dewey decimal number for aviation. A book on aviation history will be in a different section of the library than a book on how to design an airplane. And fictional books like Arthur Hailey’s classic “Airport,” or autobiographies like Chuck Yeager’s “Yeager,” are off on another shelf elsewhere. Do not hesitate to ask your reference librarian for help. And when you get back from the library, or while you’re still there, jump online and check out the NASA eBooks you can download for free.
10. Host a plane-watching picnic near an airport
At Ronald Reagan Airport in Washington DC, it’s Gravelly Point. In Minneapolis, it’s Post Road. If you live near a major international airport, chances are you know the best place locals can go to watch planes take off and land. Be sure to consider all safety restrictions regarding where you can and cannot go.
But once you’ve picked your spot, fill your picnic basket with lots of goodies and camp next to the airport for an afternoon of plane spotting. See how many different aircraft types you can count or identify. For a truly up-close and personal experience, bring a scanner radio and listen to air traffic control. This wikiHow page offers some useful tips for spotting aircraft.