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Celebrating National Aviation Week: Take a Short-Hop over to NCpedia for North Carolina’s Aviation Firsts

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Celebrating National Aviation Week: Take a Short-Hop over to NCpedia for North Carolina’s Aviation Firsts

This week is National Aviation Week, built around Friday’s upcoming National Aviation Day, first proclaimed in 1939 by President Franklin Roosevelt.  Roosevelt issued the proclamation to designate the holiday to coincide with the anniversary of Orville Wright‘s birth on August 19, 1871.

And although the Wrights’ epic flight at Kitty Hawk in 1903 gave the state one of its most memorable mottos — First in Flight — there are even more flight “firsts” that contribute to that distinction.

Photograph of Belvin Maynard, William Kline, and Trixie

Photograph of Belvin Maynard – and his dog Trixie – and William Kline, ca. 1910. Republished in NCpedia courtesy of Digital Forsyth.

Here’s just a sampling of some of the “firsts”, and you can find more information by following the links to NCpedia:

  • 1873: Henry Gatling’s hand-cranked monoplane was flown near Murfreesboro; claimed to be the first plane built in the U.S.
  • 1903: The Wrights flew the first manned and powered airplane at Kitty Hawk.
  • 1903: Georgia Ann Thompson — better known as Tiny Broadwick in NCpedia — became the first woman to make a parachute jump from an airplane. Broadwick is also credited with being the first person to make a free-fall descent and for troubleshooting a near-disaster that lead to the invention of the rip-cord.
  • 1907: Luther Paul’s twin-rotor unmanned helicopter the Bumble Bee flew in Carteret County; claimed to be the first helicopter flight in the U.S.
  • 1919: Belvin Maynard, born in Sampson County, set a record for 318 consecutive loops in 67 minutes at an airfield in France. For a time Maynard was known as the “greatest pilot on earth” and has also been credited with performing the first in-flight wedding in 1922 (although this detail has not been proven!).
  • 1928: pioneering aviatrix Louise Marcellus McPhetridge Thaden flew to 20,260 feet, at the time the highest altitude reached by a woman; Thaden and her husband participated in the development of all-metal planes and later resided in High Point where they operated a plastics engineering firm.
  • 1928: The state’s first regular air mail flight by Wheeler Airlines landed at Lindley Field in Greensboro.
  • 1948: North Carolina-born aeronautical engineer Francis Rogallo patented his invention the self-inflating Rogallo Wing which became the basis for foot-launched hang-gliders. (The first glider flown using the wing was developed and made by Californian Barry Palmer in 1961.)
  • 1969: North Carolina’s Warren Hervey Wheeler became the country’s first African American to own a commercial airline, Wheeler Flying Service.
  • 1974: Dare County resident and kite-maker John Harris in NCpedia became the first person to hang glide from the peak of Grandfather Mountain.

The list could go on, from famous military commanders and aviation heroes, inventors, NASA administrators and astronauts, to the role of the Morehead Planetarium at UNC in training folks who took to the sky and stars.

Take a virtual flight on over to NCpedia to explore these and other resources on North Carolina events and event-makers in the history of aviation! And thanks to Digital Forsyth for sharing the photo with NCpedia!

— Kelly Agan, Digital Media Librarian, N.C. Government & Heritage Library

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