It All Started with an Idea…
Washington in 1909 was a strangely different city. The automobile was still a novelty. And only a handful of citizens believed that the flying machine was here to stay.
On the record, the aviation skeptics built a strong case. Orville Wright of the Wright Brothers, inventors and pioneers of powered flight, had been released from Ft. Myer Hospital a few weeks before, suffering from injuries in a plane crash in mid-September. His passenger, Army Lieutenant Thomas E. Selfridge, was killed in the crash. An army contract accepting the plane had remained unsigned.
Public opinion as 1909 began was that the brothers were cranks, and their claims about powered flight only a dream. Even their achievements at Kitty Hawk on December 17, 1903, were dismissed by the general public as the hallucinations of a couple of crackpots. That the airplane had been invented by native sons only to be rejected by their country, that all indications were the machine would be exploited by a foreign power — these were only two of the frustrations suffered by a handful of Wright supporters. They saw in the airplane a powerful military weapon to protect the nation., and shared with the Wrights a vision of unlimited peacetime potential.
Supporters of the Wrights in this country decided that this could be done only by action that would attract national attention. Among the leaders of this support movement were many notable civilian and military figures.
An organizational meeting was held in the office of General Allen, Chief Signal Officer of the U.S. Army. Two days later, Articles of Incorporation were drawn and filed with the office of the Recorder of Deeds in the District of Columbia on the 25th of January 1909.
The Club’s primary mission, unchanged to this day, was:
To foster and promote interest in the principles and development of aeronautics and to extend honors and hospitalities to eminent airmen.
The early accomplishments of the Aero Club of Washington provided the Club with a solid foundation upon which to fulfill its important mission…the promotion ofaviation and the recognition of those deserving honor and recognition.
Beginning in the 1970s, the Aero Club developed a national reputation as one of the premier speaker forums for the aviation industry. Through the years, the Club has held a monthly luncheon at a central location in downtown Washington. These luncheons provide members with a convenient place to meet their peers, renew acquaintances, and make new friends while attending the lunch during the business day.
We Still Have Our Heads in the Clouds…
Along with the monthly luncheons, the Aero Club of Washington continues to serve as the host of the Wright Memorial Dinner in cooperation with the National Aeronautic Association in the presentation of the Wright Memorial Trophy. This gala event is the highlight of the year for the Washington aviation community as hundreds of government and industry guests gather in December to honor that year’s recipient. The stature and tradition of the dinner has grown over the years and it continues to be one of Washington’s premier aviation events.
As the Aero Club began to expand its focus, the Board determined that a Foundation should be created to further enhance the Club’s support for aviation education. In order to encourage corporate contributions and sponsorships, the Club formed the Aero Club of Washington Foundation on June 7, 1995. Today, the Foundation has devoted its efforts to bringing aviation education to students in the DC Public Schools. Through an extensive line up of field trips to the National Air and Space Museums, air traffic control facilities, Andrews Air Force Base, first flights with the Experimental Aircraft Association, along with mentoring by aviation professionals, the Foundation seeks to instill a passion for aviation in area youths.
The Aero Club of Washington is now in its 104th year of bringing the Washington and national aviation community together to share and discuss aviation issues.