• Megan Shaffer

National Aviation Day


August 19th is National Aviation Day! National Aviation Day is observed annually to celebrate the history of aviation. It is celebrated on Orville Wright’s birthday every year. Wright made significant contributions to powered flight. In 1939, President Franklin Roosevelt proclaimed the anniversary of Orville Wright’s birth to be National Aviation Day.


The History of Flight


The Wright brothers, Orville and Wilbur, were the first to build and successfully fly an airplane with controls that allowed the pilot to steer. They tested a series of kite and glider designs between 1900 and 1902 before implementing a steering system and an internal combustion engine. Although they were not the first to build and fly experimental aircrafts, they are the first to invent aircraft controls that made fixed wing flight possible. In 1903, Orville Wright made the world’s first recorded flight of a pilot-controlled airplane. This first flight lasted only 12 seconds at an elevation of only 120 feet, but was an essential precursor to the airplanes we travel in today.


Centuries before the Wright brothers were born, one of the most famous historical figures to explore flight was the Renaissance “Maestro” Leonardo da Vinci. He invented a flying machine called an “ornithopter” that replicated the flight of winged animals such as bats. Learn more about ornithopters here. His ornithopter had wings made of a wooden frame covered in raw silk and a wingspan of over 33 feet!


His design required the pilot to lie face down in the center of the machine and pedal to flap the machine’s wings. Unfortunately, the machine was only theoretical. As far as we know, da Vinci never built a model of this machine, but his sketches themselves were far ahead of his time.

Even before da Vinci, ancient Chinese inventors took to the air in the form of man-carrying kites, rotor wings, and hot air balloons.

Fun Facts about Flight

  • There aren’t that many people that have a fear of flying. Aviophobia affects about 6.5% of the population!

  • Less than 20% of the global population has been on an airplane.

  • The first US president to fly was Theodore Roosevelt, who flew in a Wright Flyer in 1910.

  • The Wright Brothers got their mechanical training as owners of a bicycle shop, which helped them develop the technical skills needed for aviation.

  • Not all planes need engines! A Boeing 747 can glide about two miles for every 1000 feet that the plane is above the ground.

Activities to Celebrate National Aviation Day


One of the best ways to celebrate National Aviation Day is to learn the history of flight! Take some time to research aviation, airplanes, and all the important figures that allowed the current flight technology available today. It’s the perfect time go to your local library and check out some books on aviation, the Wright brothers, and Leonardo da Vinci.

Science Naturally’s fiction STEM book, Leonardo da Vinci Get a Do-Over explores the life and many inventions of the “Maestro.” Several chapters are devoted to his ideas about aviation and flight, amongst many other topics that deal with physics and science. To check it out, click here!


Many museums or historical societies will host special events dedicated to Aviation. If you live close to North Carolina, you might want to take a trip to the Wright Brothers National Memorial and see where you can see replicas of hangars used by the Wright Brothers, a memorial tower, and other monuments.


What other way is better than celebrating aviation by building airplanes? Nothing! You can get airplane model kits and assemble them with your family and friends, painting and designing your own special planes to fly outside. Or you can keep it simple and make a paper airplane. See which type of paper plane can make it the furthest!


You can go even simpler than a paper airplane; you can go “planespotting!” Gather your family and friends and go to a place where you can look for airplanes in the sky. Bring some food and a blanket, lie back, and look for planes. Imagine what they see from up there!


Finally, get inspired! Leonardo da Vinci dreamt up a fantastical flying design, and the Wright brothers persevered through failures that would’ve stopped other inventors. You never know what you might invent if you keep your mind open to the possibilities – the sky’s the limit!


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