We all know the airplane was ‘invented’ in the USA. However, this is only partially true. The scientific discoveries that led to the invention of the airplane date back centuries. News and information back then travelled slowly. As all the pieces were coming together in the late 1800’s, several countries had already been working on building the first plane. The wright Brothers were the first to put together all the components in the three axis of controls of flight, and to reduce the weight of the power engine and increase the lift of the aircraft in a manner that produced the first sustainable, controlled flight. The reasons they were able to do this was because they were avid readers, they had a high mechanical aptitude and they had a world view of technology of the time. Today, Americans tend to take the world view for granted and accept that the USA alone is to credit for this achievement. But I digress.
After the wright brothers first successful flight on December 17th, 1903, we had WWI, then the golden years of aviation where civilian accomplishments (and notable failures) were rampant. There was a lot of opportunity and capabilities expanded immensely. We went from tube and fabric to more rigid ‘metal’ designs. The us had fallen behind in WWI in aviation and sought to regain our former leadership status. Competition was fierce! And then WWII came along and the gloves came off! We pulled together resources and technologies that led to the greatest increase in capabilities and mass production of aviating war machines ever!
This is a rather brief chronology to illustrate why this is important to an aviator today. The USA had already created the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in 1938 through a series of congressional Acts, such as the Air Mail Act of 1925 and the Air Commerce Act of 1934. There was corruption and errors of judgement even back then and huge financial incentives for civilian aircraft manufacturers, the airlines and the military. During WWII, Air Traffic Control was formalized and aviation was operating on a global scale. It was recognized that aviation needed to be regulated, not just in the USA, but worldwide. In November 1944, prior to the end of WWII, there was a convention in Chicago initiated by the USA and attended by 54 countries, the Convention of International Civil Aviation established the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). The ICAO is a United Nations (UN) specialized agency that became seated in Montreal, Canada for the purpose of standardizing aviation charts, language, navigation and procedures.
In 1958, the CAA became the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) and eventually joined with the new DOT on April 1, 1967 to become the Federal Aviation Administration. This is the organization that creates the rules and procedures we, as aviators must learn, in order to be licensed in the Unities States. The FAA, and all of the other countries’ aviation controlling authorities work with the ICAO in a two-way sharing environment to establish ‘best practices’ and procedures. So, in the mid 1990’s, when modern airspace designations to class A, B, C, D, E and G were established in the USA, it is consistent with the ICAO recommendations followed by other countries. (F) is also a designation in some countries not used in the USA. It is interesting to me that when getting a private pilot certificate, the ICAO is hardly mentioned as required knowledge, but if a pilot is going to operate outside of the USA, it is essential knowledge. The operating rules in other countries are similar (That was the whole point) but there are differences (such as Class F airspace mentioned above) that makes it important to learn and know.
The intent of this article then, is to demonstrate that aviation history is an important, and often under-appreciated knowledge skill set of many aviators today. It is important to note that when Presidential Candidates, such as Donald Trump, talk about the UN being unnecessary or outdated, they are disregarding the importance of having international standards in many regards. I can agree that in other areas, such as gun control or educational standards, that it is important for the USA to use good judgement and leadership as to what standards to accept or denounce, but to just largely dismiss the entire UN is a misleading argument. I think it is a mistake for Americans to largely view the world as though we exist in a bubble and it is us vs the rest of the World. Again, I’m not advocating any particular policies or positions of the UN, but rather pointing out valid reasons why global views should be considered. For the purpose of aviation, the capability exists for almost any middle-class American with ambition to acquire the appropriate ratings and a capable enough aircraft to fly to virtually any country in the World. And because the standards were largely established here, A US Pilot license is likely the most versatile in the world. I think the personal and professional implications of that are under-appreciated. I also think personal and professional private aircraft travel is also largely viewed as a wealthy-class endeavor and this is also unfortunate! One Freedom I appreciate most in the USA is the ability for anyone with sufficient health who has the mental aptitude can gain the financial means and fly their own aircraft. Less than .2% of the US population are pilots and many of them aren’t even well-educated in world views. To me, it is a tragedy that so few people are involved in the global thinking and creation of policies and transportation that bring the world together in a much more real and personal way than the Internet or Social Media. For this reason alone, there is tremendous opportunity and necessity for anyone interested in aviation to pursue it.
That .2% of the US population is only about 600,000 pilots in a country with a total population of approximately 330 Million. And we have an aviation infrastructure second to none, with more than 19,500 airports, we have about half of the General Aviation airports in the world! As a flight instructor, I’m making it my mission to help the US aviation industry ‘make a million pilots.’ China, India and the Middle East are quickly catching up to us. Together we can all work to preserve this Freedom! Please consider learning to fly, or encouraging someone with an interest in aviation to learn to fly. Get Started today with learning to fly at www.SkyWebAviation.com
Or, if you are an enthusiast and want to learn more about the aviation industry as a whole, check out my new book www.OpenAirForEveryone.com