If inventive and ballsy folks like the Wright Brothers hadn't tried to spread their wings, literally and figuratively, the field of aviation certainly wouldn't be where it is today - and neither would our extent of space travel. But our fascination with flight actually dates back centuries, like to ancient China when kites were flown to predict weather conditions.
Early efforts from pioneers such as Sir George Cayley, who was called the "Father of Aviation", inspired the ground-breaking work of those like Orville and Wilbur Wright. Cayley tirelessly tweaked his design for a glider over several decades, and in 1853, his creation successfully carried a human aloft. Fun Fact: Supposedly, the human was Cayley's carriage driver.
Enthusiastic experimenter Otto Lilienthal, or the "Glider King", constructed sixteen different glider designs and made approximately 2,000 successful flights between 1891 and 1896, until his death due to injuries from a foiled flight. It's said that his legendary last words were, "Sacrifices must be made." Also around this same time, innovative astronomer Samuel Langley created the Aerodrome, a large and heavy steam-powered aircraft that successfully flew almost a mile in 1891. Fun Fact: Langley also developed new instruments with which to study the Sun.
Amelia Earhart, one of my personal favs, was just a kiddo when these fellas were racking up aviation accolades; however, she knew at an early age that flying was her calling. In 1928, Earhart became the first female passenger to cross the Atlantic Ocean in an aircraft; and in 1932, at the age of thirty-four, she was the first female pilot to achieve this feat solo - only to sadly and mysteriously vanish during an ill-fated flight around the world five years later. Fun Fact: Earhart and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt were said to be friends who shared many of the same interests and passions, particularly women's causes.
Elizabeth "Bessie" Coleman earned a beloved name for herself as a stunt pilot in the 1920's. A black female aviator, she made waves for more than just her badass barrel rolls. Denied access to flight school here in the United States because of her gender and race, Coleman went to France to obtain her international pilot's license - the first ever awarded to an African American woman. Fun Fact: She was also of Native American descent. With aspirations to start her own flight school, the career of "Brave Bessie" was tragically cut short when she was thrown from a plane and fell to her death at just thirty-four years old.
National Aviation Day, recognized as a public holiday by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1939, celebrates the men and women who have made sky exploration possible over the years - especially through the ultimate sacrifice - and those nerdy birdies who continue to impact this scientific area of study. No coincidence I'm sure, today coincides with Orville Wright's birthday, who would be almost a century-and-a-half old if, ya know, immortality was a thing.
What started as boyhood curiosity in a bicycle shop in Dayton, Ohio, grew into an epic journey that had the Wright Brothers making history in 1903 when they successfully flew the first motor-operated aircraft across a beach in North Carolina. Fun Fact: Orville and Wilbur were two of seven children, none of which were given middle names, but instead distinctive first names of influential people.
The ability to fly became a game changer. In the early days of selecting astronauts, NASA looked for candidates who were graduates of test pilot schools, had at least 1,500 hours of flying time and were qualified jet pilots upon applying. I mean, a mere sixty years after the Wright Brothers got their feet off the ground, humans were in space. That's huge. Building on the thoughts and theories of brilliant minds before, the field of aviation has given way to humans expanding our understanding of flight - and how far we can go.