National Aviation Day celebrated with historic planes, speakers, displays, food trucks and more

Published 2:30 pm Thursday, September 7, 2023

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On a bright, sunny Saturday, National Aviation Day was celebrated at the Dare County Regional Airport on Roanoke Island.

Sponsored by the First Flight Society, the event featured a fly-in by working and historic planes, community and governmental displays, speakers and food trucks, and, of course, lots of adults and children interested in planes and aviation.

Spread out around the airport apron were airplanes on display, including:

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– A yellow Piper J3 Cub painted with a black lightning stripe was first in line.

– Considered an antique, a 1945 Aeronca Champion 7AC with conventional gear was next.

– Elizabeth City State University has a fleet of seven Cessna 172 Skyhawk single-engine flight training aircraft and more totaling 14 aircraft for its Aviation Science Program. Elizabeth City State University is the only four-year North Carolina public university in the state with an aviation science program, which leads to real jobs in aviation. Three enthusiastic young men talked about the program. The university also had a spot in the outside display avenue.

– A 1952 Cessna L-190 called “Birddog” has been owned by Bill Plaster and Dawn Plaster for three years. The airplane has had it engine rebuilt but has not been restored. It’s the only one like it in the world.

– The Dare MedFlight helicopter attracted audiences. Alongside was a Dare County ambulance.

– N.C. Forest Service sent two firefighting airplanes along with a small spotter plane. Robert Delleo is the chief pilot. The planes hold 800 gallons of water.

– A gyrocopter coasted in.

In the airport terminal building, 27 people listened as Chip Walton delivered a riveting presentation about the Wrights’ quest for a flying machine. Walton is a docent at the Wright Brothers National Memorial and delivers his presentation at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Tony Bruno, the events chairman for First Flight Society, talked about the controversial career of Billy Mitchell, who used Hatteras Island as an airfield to prove the strategic power of airplanes.

August 19, the day of this event, is the birthday of Orville Wright and in 1939, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt named the day National Aviation Day. August 19 is also the birthday of Katharine Wright, the brothers’ sister.

A proclamation adopted by the Dare County Board of Commissioners June 5, 2023, states: “Katharine Wright’s strong character, unwavering support, practical advice and business acumen during the brothers’ experiments and travels enabled her exceptional management skills for communications, writing and providing support for their test-flight operations …”

The proclamation urges the North Carolina and Ohio legislatures to “co-celebrate the contributions of Katharine Wright to powered fight on National Aviation Day.”

In the outside display area, the Dare County tent featured lemonade and conversations with county commissioner Wally Overman. Additional displays featured veterans services, College of The Albemarle and National Park Service. The Dare County Schools display showed the new aviation program scheduled to start Sept. 5 at First Flight High School. An aviation lab has been set up at the Wright Brothers National Memorial. Over two years, students will build an airplane which will be FAA certified and take off from the National Park Service’s air field at the memorial.

NASA’s Langley Research Center and Kitty Hawk Kites had displays closer to the airport terminal, where airport-related aviation history is displayed.

First Flight Society thanked the sponsors of National Aviation Day: NouVines, Kill Devil Rum, Steamers, Lost Colony Brewery, Quotapath and Argiroff Group Realty.

Additional thanks were issued to the continuing sponsors of the First Flight Society: AOPA, Twiddy, The Outer Banks Visitors Bureau, the Wright Brothers National Memorial, HondaJet, TowneBank, National Aviation Day, Elizabeth City State University, XELEVATE and Kitty Hawk Kites.