On December 17, 1903, Orville Wright started the aviation party in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina when he flew 120 feet in 12 seconds in the Wright Flyer fitted with a Wright-designed 12hp engine. Orville and his older brother, Wilbur, are credited with inventing the first mechanism that enabled the pilot to steer the aircraft, thereby solving problems previous aviation pioneers struggled to overcome and allowing them to make this historic flight.
Fast forward to April 17, 1944, when Howard Hughes and TWA president Jack Frye piloted a Lockheed Constellation – Connie for short – and set a transcontinental speed record, crossing the United States from Burbank, CA to Washington, D.C. in 6 hours and 58 minutes, averaging 331 miles per hour.
On the return trip from Washington D.C., they stopped at Wright Field near Dayton, Ohio to pick up Orville Wright for a 50-minute final “honor” flight. The pilot, Lt. Col. George A. Hatcher, let Orville, at 72 years of age, have the controls for one final time.
When Orville made that final flight, John Wayne Airport was known as the Orange County Airport and had only been a public airport for five years. At that time, though, the U.S. government was leasing and operating the Airport as the Orange County Army Airfield as part of the wartime coastal defense and had more than a dozen P-38 fighters on alert.
In 1948, three years after the end of World War II, the War Assets Administration returned the Airport to county ownership with significant improvements. A few years later, Bonanza Airlines started the first commercial airline service in Orange County in 1952. Bonanza DC-3s flew one flight a day to Phoenix, with multiple stops, and a second stop on the return to Los Angeles. Today, John Wayne Airport serves nearly 10.5 million passengers, and the longest non-stop flight is to Newark, New Jersey.
Today we celebrate National Aviation Day on August 19, Orville Wright’s birthday, which was established in 1939 by President Franklin Roosevelt. We celebrate the history and development of aviation and the contributions Orville, together with his brother Wilbur, made to powered flight.