Pan American Aviation Day

The United States celebrates Pan American Aviation day annually on December 17th. This day honors the aviation industry and encourages interest in aviation throughout the western hemisphere. Celebrations usually tie in with the Wright Brothers Day, which is observed on the same day. This holiday is separate from National Aviation Day as it focuses on aviation within the Americas, including the development of communication and aviation culture between countries in the Americas.

The day commemorates the development of the heavier-than-air craft by the Wright Brothers on December 17th, 1903. On this day, the president may issue a proclamation asking for observance through interest and development on aviation. Schools and associations may hold educational events in the classroom or through trips to aviation museums. These will focus on developments in aviation specifically in the western hemisphere. Some observers may visit the Wright Brothers memorial in Kill Devil Hill, North Carolina. It is not considered a public holiday. Ceremonies honoring the Wright brothers take often place at this memorial and at their birthplace in Dayton, Ohio.

Background

Humans have been trying to achieve flight for 2000 years, with early inventions attempting flight with kites. Leonardo da Vinci drew many designs of flight machines, but never attempted to actualize them. One of the first significant successful flying machines was the hydrogen balloon, the type of balloon still used for hot air balloons. The oldest flying device is a hot air balloon that was built in 1796, which still exists today in a Vienna museum. The next age was the development of the heavier-than-air craft, which was the early attempt at making airplanes.

The holiday often centers on honoring the Wright brothers for their contribution to aviation. The Wrights grew interested in making a flying device while gaining mechanical experience owning a shop that offered machinery for printing, motors, bicycles, and other products. These aviation pioneers are credited with the invention and production of the first successful airplane in 1903, considered successful because it was able to be controlled and support human passengers.

But their innovation did not stop there. In 1905, their invention developed into the first fixed-wing aircraft, significant for its aircraft control. The next development was three-axis control, which is a steering mechanism that allowed for equilibrium. The three-axis control is considered one of the most significant developments of the Wrights’ invention. In fact, their patent states claim of the aerodynamic controls rather than the invention of the airplane.

On this day, the Brazilian aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont is often honored. He designed and flew the first practical aircraft, a balloon, in 1898.

The developments of the Wright Brothers and companies such as the Pan American World Airways made developments in aviation that would advance the western hemisphere as a leader in aviation innovation. The holiday was established on December 17th, 1940 by President Franklin Roosevelt. The first celebration included an aviation banquet and the presentation of the Collier Trophy, an award in aviation given by the National Aeronautic Association every year.

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