Machine Design

Aviation pioneers celebrate

Descendants of the “first families” of America’s aviation pioneers recently gathered to celebrate the monumental achievements of their fathers and grandfathers, as well as the tens of thousands of scientists, engineers, pilots, and production workers who have made America the world’s aerospace and technology leader.

Held at The Newseum in Washington D.C., invited guests joined around three dozen members of the Wright, Boeing, Kindelberger, McDonnell, and Douglas families to preview a new HD production of the Emmy-nominated “Pioneers In Aviation” — a PBS production featuring the famous forebears that will be broadcast in the coming months.

“Over the course of six decades, these aeronautical pioneers carried American aviation from the era of winged box-kites to the very frontiers of space, culminating in the Apollo moon landing,” said William Winship, writer-director of the “Pioneers” Series. “Their achievements transformed the 20th century into what is justifiably termed the American century,” he said.

“As an aerospace engineer, I am in awe of what they did and, as an American, I am so grateful that they did it,” added John Tracy, CTO of Boeing, which sponsored the reunion. “These pioneers did more than give wings to humanity. They defined the purpose of the airplane, harnessed it to defend freedom, and turned it into an instrument of commerce and global connectivity.”

Family members attending the event include:

  • Amanda Wright Lane, great grand niece of Wilbur and Orville Wright and trustee of the Wright Family Foundation, which works to preserve the heritage of the men who took to the air at Kitty Hawk.
  • Gretchen Boeing-Davidson, granddaughter of William Boeing, founder of The Boeing Co., who pioneered commercial aviation in the U.S. with the inauguration of the first national transport system.
  • James Kindelberger Graham, grandson of James Howard “Dutch” Kindelberger, chairman and CEO of North American Aviation and builder of some of World War II’s greatest aircraft.
  • John McDonnell, son of James Smith McDonnell, founder of McDonnell Aircraft, builder of the greatest fighters of the Cold War era, and a leading figure in America’s race to the moon.
  • James and Malcolm Douglas, sons of Donald Wills Douglas, founder of Douglas Aircraft.

The new production features newly recovered historical footage including:

  • The Wright brothers’ famous 1908 Army flight trials at Fort Myer outside of Washington, D.“C.
  • The 1942 Doolittle raid featuring Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle
  • The North American P-51 Mustang in the skies over Berlin
  • A 19-year-old Marilyn Monroe modeling the cabin features of the Douglas DC-6
  • Test pilot Tex Johnston’s legendary 1955 barrel-roll of a Boeing 707 over Lake Washington
  • President Kennedy’s 1961 visit to the McDonnell Aircraft plant in St. Louis.


© 2012 Penton Media, Inc.

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