National Aviation Day and the Power of Flight

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Aug. 19 is National Aviation Day, a great opportunity to celebrate the power of flight. Chances are you haven’t thought much about it until you buckle your seatbelt on an airplane, and the pilot accelerates from zero to 150 mph in a few short seconds. 

Flying has become so commonplace we barely give it a thought. But it was only a little more than 100 years ago that the first flight occurred when the Wright brothers invented the first, successful, motor-operated airplane. 

Now, we hop on planes regularly – even while masked during a global pandemic. 

A national celebration 

National Aviation Day provides an opportunity to reflect on how far flying has come over just a few generations. 

In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt designated Aug. 19 as National Aviation Day. He chose the date because it was the birthday of Orville Wright, one of the brothers who built and flew the first airplane in 1903. Roosevelt wanted to promote interest in aviation and encourage people to participate in activities celebrating flight. 

At Growing Bolder, we interviewed dozens of people who love aircraft — from fighter jets to antique Piper cubs, from gliders to single-engine planes. One thing we noticed they have in common is a passion for adventure and an excitement for living their best life. Here are some of their stories. 

A celebration for collectors 

Myrt Rose, an 85-year-old pilot, flies a 1941 antique Piper J-3 Cub she calls Winston over her Marco Island home almost daily. She loves flying so much that she said if she were younger, she would go into space on the next human flight. 

Myrt Rose

“Obviously it’s not going to happen,” Rose said. “But I would do it if I could.” 

Myrt and her late husband, Bill Rose, collected airplanes, and both were rated on single and multiple-engine planes on land and sea, as well as on helicopters. 

Another collector is Kermit Weeks. He owns an airplane museum called “Fantasy of Flight” near Orlando. He built and flew his own airplanes from a young age and now uses his experience to teach others to find purpose in their lives. 

“My mission is to light the spark within others,” Weeks said. “Everything we do in life, no matter what it is, creates an opportunity for us to light the spark within ourselves.” 

A celebration of soaring 

Growing Bolder was there when the best glider pilots in North America over the age of 55 competed in the Senior Soaring National Championships. Their aircraft weigh 2,000 pounds and stay aloft with no engine. They use solar energy to ride through the warm thermal updrafts in the atmosphere. 

Pilot Charles Petersen said, “It’s a fascinating, intriguing, limitless learning curve, and it’s a lifetime sport.” 

“If flight were a language, soaring would be its poetry,” he continued. “It is spiritual at its best. I was in a thermal with six sandhill cranes, a mere 50 feet away from them. It’s absolutely amazing.”  

History-making flight 

Art “Turbo” Tomassetti made his career as a fighter pilot with the U.S. Marine Corps. His impressive resume includes awards, commendations, and medals spanning 28 years. Now retired, his service included two tours of overseas duty and 3,200 hours flying in 40 different types of aircraft. During the Gulf War, he flew Harrier jets in 39 combat missions. 

Art "Turbo" Tomassetti

Tomassetti became an accomplished test pilot for the X-35 (now known as the F-35). His plane and flight suit reside in the Smithsonian Museum because he was the first person to complete Mission X, which was a short, 450-foot takeoff, a supersonic dash, and a vertical landing — all in the same flight. 

“Since humans first left the ground, flying has shown us what individuals and teams working together can achieve when they have a goal, a vision, and in some cases a dream,” Tomassetti said. “Aviation has inspired us, connected us, and challenged us to go farther, go faster and soar higher.” 

Breaking records 

Carol Ann Garratt smashed the around-the-world speed record in a light, single-engine plane. She and her co-pilot, Carol Foy, flew 24,000 miles in eight days, breaking the record that had stood for more than 20 years.  

Growing Bolder asked Garratt what it was like to spend that much time in a small cockpit. You can hear her answer here in this radio interview.

So, how do you celebrate National Aviation Day? Here are a few tips from NASA:  

Six ways to celebrate National Aviation Day: 

  1. Take a photo. 

Pose with your arms outstretched like the wings of a plane. Post your photo to  social media with the hashtag #NationalAviationDay 

  1. Visit your local science center, a NASA visitor center, or an aviation museum. 

If you can’t visit in person, check out their websites to learn more about flight. 

  1. Watch an aviation-themed movie. 

Here are a few of the many movies about flying: “Top Gun,” “The Spirit of St. Louis,” “The Aeronauts,” “The Right Stuff,” and Disney’s “Planes.” 

  1. Take a flying lesson. 

Being a pilot isn’t for everyone, but you won’t know unless you try! 

  1. Build an airplane. 

How about building a wooden or plastic model kit from a hobby store? Or you may want to build one from Legos or even a paper airplane. 

  1. Download a NASA e-book or visit your local library. 

Books about aviation history are in a different section of the library from plane design or pilot autobiographies. There are numerous books on flying to interest any bibliophile. 

For more ideas, check out  https://www.nasa.gov/feature/spread-your-wings-on-national-aviation-day

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