A Legacy of Flight

Celebrating 111 Years of Aviation

For 12 seconds on a nippy December day in 1903, Orville Wright made history by piloting “The Wright Flyer” 120 feet. While he and his brother, Wilbur, were not the first to ever create an experimental aircraft, they were the first to figure out an effective way to control it. Their inventions made fixed-winged flight possible and changed the world forever.

To celebrate this impressive history, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt established August 19 as “National Aviation Day” in 1939. The date was selected because it was Orville Wright’s birthday, and the proclamation states that sitting U.S. Presidents can continue to designate the day as such. The goal: to encourage citizens to learn about and celebrate America’s proud history of powered flight. With that in mind, here are just a few notable planes from throughout America’s impressive aviation history.

Wright FlyerWright-Flyer

First aircraft to actually achieve sustained—and controlled—flight.

  • First flight: 1903
  • Wingspan: 40’ 4”
  • Length: 21’ 1”
  • Top speed: 30 mph
  • Ceiling: 30 feet
  • Max range: 162 miles (theoretically)

Curtiss P-6E HawkCurtiss-P-6E-Hawk

The last biplane fighter built for the Army Air Corps and considered one of the best looking planes of the era.

  • First flight: 1929
  • Length: 25’ 2”
  • Wingspan: 31’ 6”
  • Top speed: 204 mph
  • Ceiling: 24,700 feet
  • Max range: 480 miles

P-51 MustangP51-Mustang-2

Perhaps the most famous fighter plane of WWII helped ensure air superiority, with Mustang pilots claiming 4,950 enemy aircraft shot down.

  • First flight: 1940
  • Wingspan: 37'
  • Length: 32’
  • Top speed: 437 mph
  • Ceiling: 41,900 feet
  • Max range: 1,650 miles

B-29 Superfortress B-29_Superfortress-1

The largest U.S. bomber to serve in WWII, it was made famous by the Enola Gay.

  • First flight: 1942
  • Wingspan: 141’ 3”
  • Length: 99’
  • Top speed: 357 mph
  • Ceiling: 31,850 feet
  • Max range: 5,600 miles

CONVAIR B-36 PEACEMAKERB-36-Peacemaker-1

Was the largest mass-produced piston engine aircraft ever made, and had the longest wingspan of any combat aircraft ever built.

  • First flight: 1946
  • Wingspan: 230’
  • Length: 162’ 1”
  • Top speed: 418 mph
  • Ceiling: 43,600 feet
  • Range: 10,000 miles

Bell X-1Bell_X-1_in_flight

Piloted by Chuck Yeager, it was the first aircraft to break the sound barrier.

  • First flight: 1947
  • Wingspan: 28’
  • Length: 30’ 11”
  • Top speed: 957 mph (Mach 1.26)
  • Ceiling: 71,902 feet
  • Max range: However long it can travel during 5 minutes of burn time and gliding back to Earth.

Northrop YB-35YB-35-2

This experimental flying wing design was radical for its time and set the stage for the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber.

  • First flight: 1948
  • Wingspan: 172’
  • Length: 53’ 1”
  • Top speed: 393 mph
  • Ceiling: 39,700 feet
  • Range: 8,150 miles

B-52 StratofortressB-52

Completed 50 years of continuous service in 2005, and is expected to serve into the 2040s.

  • First flight: 1952
  • Wingspan: 185’
  • Length: 159’ 4”
  • Top speed: 650 mph
  • Ceiling: 50,000 feet
  • Range: 10,145 miles

Cessna 172Cessna-172-2

More 172s have been built than any other plane in history, with more than 60,000 produced since its introduction in the mid 1950s.

  • First flight: 1956
  • Wingspan: 36’ 1”
  • Length: 27’ 2”
  • Top speed: 180 mph
  • Ceiling: 13,500 feet
  • Range: 801 miles

C-130 HERCULESC-130_Hercules-1

One of the only military aircraft to remain in continuous production for over 50 years, it has served as the workhorse of the U.S. military.

  • First flight: 1954
  • Wingspan: 132’ 7”
  • Length: 97’ 9”
  • Top speed: 366 mph
  • Ceiling: 33,000 feet
  • Range: 2,360 miles

SR71 BlackbirdSR-71_Blackbird-1

The first operational aircraft specifically designed with stealth in mind, it is also fast enough to outrun most surface-to-air missiles.

  • First flight: 1964
  • Wingspan: 55’ 7”
  • Length: 107’ 5”
  • Max speed: 2,200+ mph (Mach 3.3)
  • Ceiling: 85,000
  • Range: 3,337 miles

BOEING 747747

This model has appeared in more than 300 film productions, making it one of the most iconic planes in history.

  • First flight: 1969
  • Wingspan (current model - 747-81): 224’ 7”
  • Length: 231’
  • Top speed: 614 mph
  • Ceiling: 41,000 feet
  • Range: 8,964  miles

A-10 Thunderbolt (a.k.a, Warthog) A-10-Thunderbolt

One of the most recognizable planes in the U.S. military, it has become a favorite of many due to its unusual look.

  • First flight: 1972
  • Wingspan: 57’ 6”
  • Length: 53’ 4”
  • Top speed: 439 mph
  • Ceiling: 45,000 feet
  • Range: 2,580 miles

B-2 Spirit B-2

It was the first stealth bomber ever made, and will remain in service with the United States Air Force until 2058.

  • First flight: 1989
  • Wingspan: 172’
  • Length: 69’
  • Top speed: 630 mph
  • Ceiling: 50,000 feet
  • Range: 6,900 miles
Mark Dye

About the author: Mark Dye

Mark Dye has been writing articles, recording podcasts, and putting together books on personal finance for nearly a decade. His work has been recognized by the American Bankers Association and the Institute for Financial Literacy, and received an 2011 APEX Grand Award for Writing. Follow Mark on Google+.

Contact: Mark Dye

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