Aug. 19 marks the annual designation of National Aviation Day which celebrates the history and development of aviation. Although not a public holiday, the celebration coincides with the birthday of Orville Wright, who, together with his brother Wilbur, pioneered powered flight in America. Timeanddate.com points out that “Each year the President may issue a proclamation to: designate Aug. 19 as National Aviation Day; call on government officials to display the flag of the United States on all government buildings on the day; and invite people living in the United States to observe the day with appropriate exercises to further stimulate interest in aviation in the country.”
Aviation is of particular significance in Ohio, not only because of the Wright Brothers and their contribution, but other important events in aviation took place in Ohio as well. To read a related article about the Wright Brothers and the application of their faith in their endeavors to fly, click here. Take a look also at the accompanying slide show of the Wright Brothers over the years.
African American Connections
Two notable events connected with aviation involved African Americans on a local level in Central Ohio. One such noteworthy acclaim occurred in Columbus in 1929 with Lonnie Carmon, an early pioneer in aviation. The other connection occurred with the Tuskegee Airmen, the first African American fighter pilots who were assigned to what is known today as Rickenbacker Air Base in Columbus at the end of World War II.
Lonnie Carmon—First African American to fly in Central Ohio
In terms of aviation history, an African American from Columbus accomplished remarkable feat, that of flying an airplane in 1929. In the midst of the Great Depression, this time frame makes the accomplishment of Lonnie Carmon even more remarkable. Not only did Carmon become the first African American to fly an airplane in Central Ohio, but even more astonishing—he built the plane himself! To learn more about the accomplishments of this “natural mechanic and inventor” who was honored by the Ohio Historical Society and to view a slide show, click here.
Tuskegee Airman—Dr. David Brown, educator and American hero
Another Columbus, OH connection with aviation from an African American view is through Rickenbacker International Airport. Originally opened in 1942 as Lockbourne Air Force Base (named after the nearby village of Lockbourne), the site became the home base to the famed Tuskegee Airmen after World War II. In 1974, it was renamed Rickenbacker Air Force Base after Columbus native Eddie Rickenbacker, the leading American fighter pilot of World War I.
In 2012, Dr. David Brown, former Tuskegee Airman, received the Max J. Lerner Distinguished Governmental Service Award from The Ohio Association of Career Colleges and Schools (OACCS), a statewide association of voluntary membership for non-public, post-secondary private schools and colleges. The following remarks were part of the introduction of the award recipient:
Throughout his life, Dr. Brown has distinguished himself as a leader, educator, pioneer, and American hero, spending 22 years at Columbus State College (formerly Columbus Technical College) and serving as Vice President of Academic Affairs for 13 years.
His military career began, however, as an 18-year old boy from Minnesota who joined the army in 1942 and became one of the original 'Tuskegee Airmen.' As a member of the U.S. Army Air Corps’ first unit of African-American combat pilots, who flew P-51 Mustangs during WWII as part of the famed 332nd, commonly known as the Red Tails.
Brown received his wings just after his 19th birthday and returned home to Minneapolis, where he got a hero’s welcome. As an airman he recalls, 'Being a black officer was just unheard of, and a pilot on top of that. We knew we were a very select group of people.'
Brown says he didn’t know he’d be making history when he enlisted. 'I didn’t have the slightest idea,' he said. 'All I wanted to do was fly airplanes.' He flew 30 missions during World War II, was shot down over Austria on his last mission and was held as a Prisoner of War in Nuremburg, Germany until the camp was liberated by American forces.
Dr. Brown returned home in June 1945 at age 20. 'I’d been through all of that, and I wasn’t even old enough to vote.'
After a distinguished 23-year career, Brown retired as a Lt. Colonel from the U.S. Air Force in 1965. His last assignment was in Columbus, OH, where he still lives today. Since retirement Brown has received numerous awards including Congressional Gold Medal which he received in 2007 in Washington D.C.
Dr. Brown discussed his career as a fighter pilot with the Tuskegee Airmen in a presentation to the Rotary Club of Toledo. Click here to view.
The accompanying video provides a concise history of aviation.
Aug. 19, National Aviation Day, provides another occasion to recognize and celebrate the valuable contributions that have been made to the history of flight in Central Ohio.