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Friday, August 18, 2017

August 1939: National Aviation Day and the 30th Anniversary of Army Aviation

August 19 marks National Aviation Day in the United States.  Prior to 1939, aviation was frequently celebrated on December 17, the date of the Wright brothers’ first flight in 1903, and, in 1937, “National Aviation Day” had been held on May 28.  In 1939, having received authorization from Congress in a May 11 joint resolution, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed that August 19, Orville Wright’s birthday, would officially be designated National Aviation Day in the United States.

Text of the Joint Resolution Designating August 19 of each year as National Aviation Day from Public Laws Enacted during the First Session of the Seventy-Sixth Congress of the United States of America.  U.S. House of Representatives, Office of the Law Revision Council, United States Code.
Throughout the United States, communities planned aviation-related events.  In the Washington, DC, region, five airports—Capital Airport (Bladensburg, Maryland), Beacon Field (Fairfax County, Virginia), Hybla Valley Airport (Alexandria, Virginia), Congressional Airport (Rockville, Maryland), and College Park Airport (Maryland)—scheduled “50-cent” flights over the city.  The East Hartford divisions of United Aircraft Corporation’s Pratt & Whitney Aircraft and Hamilton Standard Propeller held an open house for employees and their immediate families.  Major Al Williams, acrobatic pilot, was scheduled to be the star of an aviation show at the World’s Fair.

A crowd watches formation flying at [Army Air Corps] 30th Anniversary Celebration at Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, August 2, 1939.  NASM WF-64774.
The military participated in National Aviation Day as well.  The War and Navy Departments arranged open houses at their air fields.  Although several Army Air Corps fields hosted open houses, the biggest aviation event for the Army had already taken place a couple of weeks before.  On August 2, the Army celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Army’s purchase of the Wright Military Flyer on August 2, 1909—the birth of Army aviation.

Photo exhibit at Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, in celebration of Army aviation’s 30th anniversary, August 1939.  NASM WF-64695.
All air stations hosted open houses and 2,000 aircraft participated in flyovers.  The largest of the anniversary celebrations took place at Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio, home of the Wright brothers. The Army estimated that over 48,000 visitors attended the event and 20,000 watched from outside the gates.  Brigadier General George H. Brett served as the Master of Ceremonies.  Major General H.H. “Hap” Arnold spoke at the luncheon for special guests, highlighting the history of Army aviation, presenting visions for the future, and awarding Distinguished Flying Crosses to four officers.

Boeing XB-15 (s/n 35-277) on display at Army Air Corp 30th anniversary celebration at Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, on August 2, 1939.  NASM 92-4006
Visitors to Wright Field had the opportunity to view approximately fifty of the Army’s “most modern aircraft.” Some of the larger airplanes had platforms from which guests could enter the airplane through one door and exit from another.  One of the aircraft on display at Wright Field was the Boeing XB-15, which on that very day had set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a Closed Circuit of 5000 Kilometers With 2000 Kilogram Payload.  Throughout the day, aircraft flew in formation over the field.

Here's a list of National Air and Space Museum events for Saturday, August 19.  What do you plan to do for National Aviation Day 2017?!

Elizabeth C. Borja, Reference and Outreach Coordinator
National Air and Space Museum Archives

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