NASA Personnel Share First Flight Experiences To Commemorate National Aviation Day
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online
Tuesday, August 19 – the birthday of powered-flight pioneer Orville Wright – marks National Aviation Day, and to mark the occasion some of NASA’s finest have shared the stories of how they first took to the skies.
In 1939, President Franklin Roosevelt declared that Wright’s birthday would become a time to celebrate the importance of aviation each year, selecting the date since Orville and his brother Wilbur took part in the first-ever controlled flight of a heavier-than-air machine leaving the ground under its own power.
That event took place in December 1903 at Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, and lasted approximately 12 seconds, though Orville’s diary revealed that the exact duration of the flight is “not known exactly as watch was not promptly stopped,” NASA’s Jim Banke said in a statement.
Their Wright Flyer aircraft launched at 10:35 am EST and traveled a distance of roughly 120 feet, made it 10 feet off the ground and reached a top speed of 6.8 mph. They went on to conduct three more flights that day, with both Wright brothers taking turns at the controls and Wilbur’s final flight traveling 852 feet and lasting 59 seconds.
In recent years, there has been some debate as to whether or not the Wrights were actually the first men to take flight, or if that honor actually belongs to a German immigrant named Gustave Whitehead, who allegedly conducted a 10 minute flight in the skies over Bridgeport, Connecticut in 1901. Regardless, it does not diminish the significance of the occasion, or what it meant to the men and women of NASA.
One of the NASA personnel who shared their first flight experiences is Jaiwon Shin, associate administrator for aeronautics. Shin’s first flight occurred in 1982, as he flew from Seoul, South Korea to Los Angeles onboard a Boeing 747 in order to continue his education.
“Having never flown before you can imagine both the excitement and apprehension I felt when I got on board this huge airplane for the first time in my life,” Shin said. “I didn’t know how to get around in that airplane. Everything was new. I remember I tested everything very carefully and gingerly because I did not want to look stupid!”
“I have no idea what kind of airplane it was. I remember being pretty scared during takeoff and landing but enjoyed the rest of the flight. The flight was relatively smooth and uneventful and I was very excited to be going on a vacation far from home to a place I had never been,” said Steve Jurczyk, director of NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia, whose first flight was for a family vacation in 1972 and took him from New York to Florida.
S. Pete Worden, director of NASA’s Ames Research Center in California, said that he had no memory of his first flight, but was told by his parents that it came in 1950 when he was just six months old. Worden’s father was a flight instructor at the time, and took him on a flight in the open-air cockpit of a Stearman biplane.
Worden when on to explain that he obtained his pilot’s license at age 16, and while most people told him that they were afraid when it came time to conduct their first solo flight, he said that he was “just happy to have my dad out of the plane and not yelling at me. He learned to fly in World War II and his training method was to yell as if I was an aviation cadet… I was so happy to have him out of the airplane and out of my ear that soloing was a real joy.”
Robert Cabana, an astronaut who took part in four space shuttle missions and currently serves as the director of Florida’s Kennedy Space Center, said that his first flight came in 1967 as he traveled on a Northwest Airlines airplane from Minneapolis to Baltimore en route to the US Naval Academy, where he set out to become a naval aviator.
David McBride, the director of NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base in California, said that his first flight was in 1970 on a Boeing 727. However, he noted that that his first memory of being on an airplane was in either 1964 or 1965, as he helped escort his grandmother to the Albuquerque, New Mexico airport.
“The flight was on a TWA Constellation. We were able to escort her all the way to her seat to see her off,” McBride said. “Flight then was a very special event – all the men wore suits and ties, all the women wore nice dresses. By the time of my first actual flight, the era was a bit more relaxed, but still special. I had a window seat and was mesmerized by the view for the entire flight, and could think of nothing other than the view and the vehicle.”
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