Celebrate a Century of Aviation Achievement

By Scott Spangler on September 7th, 2011

To appreciate what we have—and how far we’ve come, now is the time to celebrate the centennials of aviation’s many achievements. In the process, we might attract some new participants, which is surely aviation’s more pressing concern as it marches into its second century. It sure seems to be working for the US Navy and its nationwide naval aviation extravaganza.

2011_centennial_logoNow is the time to start celebrating, because 1911 is when thing started to happen again in aviation. As the Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame reminded me during a program celebrating the centennial of the first flight in Green Bay, most of the time between the Wrights’ first flight and 1911 was spend in court, fighting patent lawsuits. With most of the lawsuits settled, the inaugural aviation events to celebrate will grow rapidly, so dig out your aviation history books and get to work.

About four dozen people of all ages surrounded me at the the WAHF presentation. Held in the spotless Jet Air hangar at Green Bay’s Austin Straubel International airport, I wasn’t the only one who noticed the difference between the rickety airplanes on screen and the sleek Cessna Mustang, Cirrus Turbo, and MU-2 parked in the corner. Before the program began, the aviators in the room showed others around and answered their questions.

The PowerPointed program wasn’t fancy, and it didn’t need to be because the  audience, self-selected for its aviation interest, hung on every word of what was. After recounting the interesting history of Curtiss demo pilot Charles Witmer, WAHF board members Rose and John Dorcey, went step by step through the first flight of the Curtiss Model D “hydro-aeroplane” from the Fox River during the Brown Country Fair.

WAHF-1What really caught my attention was the tabletop display that gave thumbnail details of the 13 first flights in Wisconsin during 1911. It wasn’t that they took place in cities such as Ashland, Antigo, Portage, and Menominee. It was that they were made by the exhibition pilots from the world’s major manufacturers at the time.

What are the chances that the Curtiss Model D (on floats and wheels), the Wright Model B (with Vin Fiz pilot Cal Rodgers at the controls) , and the Bleriot XI would all fly in the same state—Wisconsin, no less—in the same year. Do you know what aviation events happened in your state or hometown a century ago? Make friends with your local historical society, and you might find an event to celebrate that will attract newcomers by recounting what past participants achieved in the rapturous world of flight. –Scott Spangler

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