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Flying high

8 facts about U.S. aviation

Wesley L. Smith, an airmail service pilot, is shown in 1922.

November is National Aviation History Month. To mark the occasion, here are eight facts about the evolution of flight in the United States.

1. The Wright brothers were almost beaten to the punch. American astrophysicist and aviation pioneer Samuel Pierpont Langley worked on his “aerodome” flying machine for years and even received $50,000 in research funding from the U.S. War Department. Langley made his final unsuccessful attempt at manned flight in December 1903; just days later, Wilbur and Orville Wright made history with their successful flight in Kitty Hawk, NC.

2. Airmail service was the forerunner to commercial airlines. The Post Office Department operated the service from 1918-1927, when all airmail was carried under contract. The companies that took over mail transportation were the predecessors to today’s commercial airlines.

3. Airmail earned the Post Office Department several accolades. In 1922 and 1923, the Post Office Department was awarded the Collier Trophy, the aviation industry’s top honor, for important contributions to the development of aeronautics. Other award recipients have included the crews of the Apollo 11 and the International Space Station.

4. Air travel in the United States really took off in the 1950s. In 1955, for the first time, more people in the nation traveled by air than by train. By 1957, airliners had replaced ocean liners as the preferred means of crossing the Atlantic Ocean.

5. The V-22 Osprey made aviation history. The military plane is the world’s first production tiltrotor aircraft and was first used by the Marine Corps in combat in 2007. With the speed and range of a turboprop, the maneuverability of a helicopter and the ability to carry 24 Marine combat troops twice as fast and five times farther than previous helicopters, the Osprey was a boon to U.S. military operations.

6. The nation’s skies are pretty crowded. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, there are approximately 5,000 aircraft in the sky occupying 17 percent of the world’s airspace during peak operational times.

7. Georgia is on the minds of several million airline passengers. The Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is the busiest airport in the United States, with more than 103 million passengers passing through each year.

8. The Boeing 737 is the most produced commercial airliner of all time. In 2018, the company rolled out its 10,000th 737 aircraft from its Renton, WA, factory. Boeing’s most popular model has been flying the friendly skies since 1968.

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