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William A. Robie, Jr.

FOR THE GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT:  A HISTORY OF THE AERO CLUB OF AMERICAN AND THE NATIONAL AERONAUTIC ASSOCIATION.

(Under the direction of Professor William N. Still, Jr. ) Department of History, March 1993.

The purpose of this study is to investigate the influence of America's oldest national aviation organization on the development of United States aviation.

From its founding in 1905, as the Aero Club of America (ACA), through 1922, when it underwent reorganization and became the National Aeronautic Association (NAA), and on to the present, the National Aeronautic Association served United States aviation in a variety of roles.  In the beginning, it was the focal point of organized aviation in the U.S., and among its members were listed some of the most influential leaders in American science and industry.  It was the Aero Club, not the federal government, that began the practice of regulating flight safety by issuing flying licenses based on a demonstrated ability to competently operate a vehicle of the air.  The organization continued in this capacity until 1926 when, largely due to lobbying by the NAA, the federal government established a regulatory agency for flight under the Department of Commerce.

Throughout its history the ACA/NAA has fostered the development of all forms of flight.  As such, it was the first body of aviation experts in the U.S. to publicly endorse the efforts of the Wright brothers; was instrumental in persuading Congress to fund military aviation (the first airplanes used in American military maneuvers were loaned by Aero Club members); and is the mother organization from which all U.S. air sports organizations either directly, or indirectly, evolved.

Dedicated to the safe and scientific advancement of American aviation, 1911 Aero Club president Robert J. Collier, a successful magazine publisher, established an award to be given annually for the greatest achievement in aviation, as demonstrated by practical application during the preceding year.  Known as the Collier Trophy (now permanently displayed at the National Air & Space Museum), it is still considered to be the most prestigious aviation award in America, and is still awarded annually by the NAA.  Recipients of the Collier Trophy are a veritable "Who's Who" of aviation industry and flying luminaries, and presenters of the trophy have included U.S. presidents from Taft to Kennedy.

Finally, as the first national aviation club in this country the Aero Club of America was among the founding members of the Federatioon Aeronautique Internationale (FAI).  Ever since then the NAA has continued to function as the American arm of this organization, officiating at all attempts to set new flying records and certifying new records to the international aviation body.  It is in this role, and acting as an umbrella for many of the nation's air sports organizations, that the NAA functions today.