Presidents in Flight

Posted on Wed, November 2, 2016
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George, Tom, Abe, Teddy, Bill, and Herbie—the "Racing Presidents" for the hometown Washington Nationals baseball team—feature large-headed versions of past Commanders-in-Chief. Can you imagine what these presidents could accomplish as the "Flying Presidents"? The National Air and Space Museum Archives' collections feature documents and images of the United States presidents, as they relate to aviation and space flight, from George Washington to George H.W. Bush.

  • Letter from George Washington to John Foulke.

    1 – George Washington

    In 1784, Dr. John Foulke thought it must be nice to have Washington on his side, so he invited the General to a lecture on ballooning in Philadelphia. In a letter held by the Archives, Washington sent his regrets. Washington’s response reads: “Genl. Washington presents his compliments to Doctr. Foulke — thanks him for his polite card and ticket — and would with great pleasure attend his Lecture on Pneumatics, but the business which brought him to the city does not leave him at Liberty, as the Members of the Cincinnati are anxious to bring it to a close Monday Morning.”

    Later, as President, Washington not only viewed but also assisted with the first American ascent of the famous French balloonist Jean-Pierre Blanchard on January 9, 1793 in Philadelphia.

  • Abraham Lincoln's Note to Gen. Scott

    16 – Abraham Lincoln

    Letter written July 25, 1861 by President Abraham Lincoln to Lt. General Winfield Scott, commander of Union forces, regarding a proposal to use Thaddeus S. C. Lowe's balloons for observation of enemy positions during the Civil War. 

    Text reads: “Will Lieut Gen. Scott please see Professor Lowe once more about his balloon?  [signed] A. Lincoln. Jul. 25, 1861.”

  • Arch Hoxsey stands beside Theodore Roosevelt

    26 – Theodore Roosevelt 

    Teddy Roosevelt was the first American president to fly.

    On October 11, 1910, former president Roosevelt was at Kinloch Field, St. Louis, Missouri, campaigning for the state’s Republican party. Pilot Arch Hoxsey asked him to fly in his Wright (Co) Type AB. At first Roosevelt refused, but eventually accepted the flight, during which Hoxsey put the aircraft into three steep dives.

  • President Theodore Roosevelt (left) and pilot Arch Hoxsey (right) seated in Hoxsey's Wright (Co) Type AB.

    26 – Theodore Roosevelt 

    Former president Roosevelt during his 1910 flight.

  • President William Howard Taft

    27 – William Howard Taft

    William Howard Taft attended the July 1909 trials of what would be known as the Wright Military Flyer at Ft. Myer, Virginia.  He was accompanied in his car by Senator Jonathan Bourne Jr. (R-OR) and military aide Archie Butt (who would later die on the Titanic).

  • President William Howard Taft Meets Orville and Wilbur Wright

    27 – William Howard Taft

    President William Howard Taft (center) also met with Wilbur (left of center) and Orville Wright (right of center) at the White House. Their sister Katharine Wright is to the right of Wilbur.

  • Woodrow Wilson

    28 - Woodrow Wilson

    President Woodrow Wilson (left) presided over the opening ceremonies for the first regularly scheduled air mail service. On May 15, 1918, he met with Major Reuben Fleet (right), who had organized and assembled the pilots and aircrafts for this service.

  • President Calvin Coolidge and Secretary of War John Wingate Weeks

    30 – Calvin Coolidge

    President Calvin Coolidge welcomed the crew members of the Douglas World Cruiser first flight around the world upon their arrival in Washington on September 9, 1924. The crew successfully circumnavigated the globe in 175 days. Left to right: Lt. Leslie Arnold; Lt. Lowell Smith; President Calvin Coolidge; Secretary of War John Wingate Weeks; Lt. John Harding; Lt. Odgen and Lt. Leigh Wade posed standing in front of the Douglas World Cruiser DWC-2 Chicago.

    The Chicago is on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC, and Arnold’s diary and scrapbook are in the Museum's Archives collections.

  • Pitcairn PCA-2 Autogiro in front of White House

    31 – Herbert Hoover

    On April 22, 1931, President Herbert Hoover presented the 1930 Collier Trophy to Harold Pitcairn and associates for the development and application of the autogiro while standing on the lawn of the White House. Though not visible in the photograph, President Herbert Hoover, his wife, and grandchildren then witnessed the Pitcairn PCA-2 Autogiro taking off from the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC.

  • Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ford Tri-Motor

    32 – Franklin D. Roosevelt

    President Franklin D. Roosevelt was the first sitting president to fly. In this image, Roosevelt (left in the top right corner) speaks to reporters outside of an American Airways Ford 5-AT Tri-Motor.

  • Dwight Eisenhower and Jupiter C Missile Nose Cone

    34 – Dwight D. Eisenhower

    President Dwight D. Eisenhower shown with scale model of Jupiter C Missile nose cone during speech given from the White House, November 7, 1957.

  • President John F. Kennedy and Sikorsky Helicopter

    35 – John F. Kennedy

    Presidential party departs Sikorsky (S-61V) VH-3A (HSS-2Z) Sea King helicopter at Cape Canaveral Skid Strip, November 16, 1963. Left to right: NASA Associate Administrator Dr. Robert Channing Seamans, Jr.; President John Fitzgerald Kennedy; Sen. George Smathers (D-FL).

  • President Lyndon B, Johnson and Col. Daniel Chappie James

    36 – Lyndon B. Johnson

    President Lyndon B. Johnson in a discussion with Air Force Colonel Daniel "Chappie” James. In 1975, James became the first African American to achieve the rank of four-star general.

  • President Nixon Visits Apollo 11 Crew in Quarantine

    37 – Richard M. Nixon

    Apollo 11 flight crew members Neil A. Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Edwin E. "Buzz" Aldrin, Jr., inside the Mobile Quarantine Facility (MQF), being greeted through the window by President Richard M. Nixon; July 24, 1969.

  • Black and white photo of opening ceremony of National Air and Space Museum July 1, 1976

    38 – Gerald R. Ford

    President Gerald R. Ford and the Museum's Director Michael Collins attend the ribbon cutting ceremony for the opening of the National Air and Space Museum building in Washington, DC, on July 1, 1976.

  • George H.W. Bush in TBM Avenger

    41 – George H. W. Bush

    In 1941, George H. W. Bush became the youngest aviator in the U.S. Navy at the time. He is pictured in the cockpit of his General Motors (Eastern) TBM Avenger during World War II.