U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service
Much of America's 20th century history is inextricably linked to aviation. At times, American inventors, scientists, engineers, pilots, and military and civilian leaders headed pioneering efforts to develop aviation technology and uses. In different periods, the United States lagged behind other nations and needed highly dedicated and costly efforts to catch up.
Both the public and private sectors contributed to aviation's development in this country. The pioneers of America's aviation industry built the technological and industrial infrastructure that enabled aviation to succeed, while the exploits of daring flying heroes captured the public imagination and encouraged the support of aviation. The Federal government supported the development of military aviation, conducted important aeronautical research, and established, regulated, and encouraged the development of interstate passenger, postal, and freight commerce.
The American public has had a fascination with aviation throughout this century. Aerial combat in the First World War established heroes such as Lt. Edward Rickenbacker, "Ace of Aces" and winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor. The Golden Age of Aviation between the World Wars brought enthusiasm for flying to all parts of the country via air shows, air races, barnstormers, and wing walkers. The exploits of daring pilots, including Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart, Jacqueline Cochran, and Howard Hughes, were closely followed as they set speed, distance, and endurance records. Hollywood captured America's love of the romance of flight in the movies; the first Academy Award for best motion picture was presented to the 1927 film Wings, the story of American Army Signal Corps pilots battling the Germans in the sky over France.
America's entry into World War II was precipitated by a Japanese aerial attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on December 7, 1941. The United States responded with the massive mobilization of men and war materiel that eventually destroyed German Nazism and Italian fascism in Europe and the expansionist Japanese empire. The bombers, fighters, and transports produced by American industry contributed substantially to that victory. When the Soviet Union blockaded Berlin in 1948, the Western allies initiated the Berlin Airlift to supply the 2,100,000 residents of the beleaguered city. Over a 321 day period, American and British allied aircraft made 272,264 flights transporting 2.3 million tons of food and other supplies. This enormous air relief effort convinced the Soviet Union that America would not abandon Berlin to Soviet control.
After the Second World War, developments in aviation were spurred by the tensions of the Cold War and the expanded civilian growth of air travel for pleasure and business. The military focused on high-speed aircraft to maintain air superiority. On October 14, 1947, Capt. Charles E. Yeager became the first person to successfully fly an aircraft (the X-1) faster than the speed of sound. The airline industries built ever larger and faster passenger and cargo carriers, transporting people and goods around the globe at speeds and distances inconceivable to the generation that witnessed the birth of manned flight. General aviation experienced a great growth during this period. The Soviet Union's launching of Sputnik on October 4, 1957, was a pivotal event in the development of the American space program. The United States responded to this challenge with exceptional achievements: manned space flight, lunar landings, exploration of the solar system, and development of the space shuttle program.
The Nation's remarkable aviation history is reflected in numerous districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. These historic aircraft, airfields, research and testing facilities, aeronautical and engineering research laboratories, production plants, military installations, and launch sites are worthy of preservation for their contributions to aviation technology, and for their association with the historically significant people and events that made the United States the world's leader in aviation.
Carol D. Shull
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