Thursday marks a famous American anniversary – Dec. 17, 1903, was the first manned flight by the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk in North Carolina.
The achievement of these two Americans is celebrated nationally and internationally, and should be marked here, too, because more than a century ago they came to Augusta to open a flight school.
On Feb. 18, 1910, The Augusta Chronicle reported that Wilbur Wright, the older brother, was planning a pilot training facility here.
In early 1911, the brothers established one of their first commercial flight schools at what is now Daniel Field with the help of a friend, Frank Coffyn. They liked it here.
Wilbur Wright would soon recommend Augusta as a site for a U.S. Army Signal Corps winter flight school on a farm off Sand Bar Ferry Road. He visited the site in January 1912 after it opened.
Flying was considered very safe. “… the very small number of accidents, mostly of a trivial character, prove that good judgment and carefulness count in this as in other things,” The Chronicle reported.
The station left Augusta after one year, and the Wright Brothers’ school survived about three years.
Augusta has a rightful place in the story of the development of American aviation, according to Tim Gaffney, of the National Aviation Heritage Alliance in Dayton, Ohio.
Robert Collier, the publisher who established the Collier trophy and a Wright Co. director, signed up for flying lessons at Augusta, as did J. Starling Burgess, who built Wright airplanes under license, Gaffney wrote in an e-mail.
“I hope Augusta embraces this history and uses it to inspire future aviators and pioneers in any field,” he said.
After they left, the site was used by the military during World War I for the massive Camp Hancock military installation. The war ended. The soldiers went home.
The city bought the property, eventually turning it into Daniel Field.
In the decades that followed, Augusta continued to use it to play a role in American aviation.
By 1931, the city was attracting big-name aviators such as Amelia Earhart.
Midway through World War II, the military selected a site for an airport in Augusta south of town. Eventually it was abandoned and the city quickly purchased it, naming it Bush Field, after D.C. Bush, who had trained in Augusta but died in a plane crash.
Today, Augusta features both Augusta Regional Airport and Daniel Field, both exceptional facilities.
The next time you look up in the sky and see a plane, just think, there are few places in the world that have seen manned flight as long as we have. Wilbur and Orville were right.