Harry S. Truman photo

Remarks at the Wright Memorial Dinner of the Aero Club of Washington.

December 17, 1952

Mr. Chairman:

I am very happy to be able to participate in this occasion.

In its first half-century, aviation has had an astonishing career. It is really hard for the human mind to accept some of the accomplishments in this field. This has always been true.

As I have said many a time before, I wish I could see the development of the next half century. I won't quite be able to reach that far, but I am going to go as far as I can. It has been said in 1840, Jimmy, that the Commissioner of Patents went before a Senate committee and suggested that the Patent Office be closed because there was nothing more to be invented--in 1840.

Forty-nine years ago it was hard to get people to believe that the Wright brothers had actually flown an airplane at all. And today we can hardly believe that a man will be able to travel so fast from Washington to San Francisco that he will get to San Francisco earlier than he took off from Washington!

But I am sure Jimmy Doolittle knows what he is talking about and it will not be very long before we see something like that happen. Just the other day, a transport plane crossed the international dateline and got to Seattle 40 minutes before it left Tokyo.

It is a fine thing for you to get together at a dinner like this to honor people who have contributed to our advances in the field of aviation. I have had the privilege of presenting some of these trophies a number of times, and I appreciate that privilege very much.

Last year, I suggested that the winner of the Collier Trophy ought to receive a small replica of the trophy that he could keep in his own possession permanently. I am told that Mr. Winger of Collier's magazine has arranged for this to be done. I didn't mean to get Mr. Winger into trouble, but I still think it is a good idea and I am glad to know that it is being carried out.

Now I would like to say another word about Jimmy Doolittle. He is an old-timer in this business, of course, and his claim to fame rests upon a great many outstanding accomplishments. At this time, I would like to thank him again for the job he did for me last winter on the problem of airport location and use.

You will remember that a number of unfortunate accidents had raised that problem in a very acute form. So I appointed a commission, headed by General Doolittle, to look into the matter and make recommendations to me. That commission got right to work and made a thorough study, and submitted to me a report entitled "The Airport and Its Neighbors."

It is a good report. It gives us some guidelines for providing airports for the needs of our national economy and our national defense, and at the same time for protecting the safety and peace of mind of the people who live near the airports.

Since that report was issued, aviation has had a fine safety record. So far, this year has been the safest in aviation history. The credit for that is shared by a great many people, including our Civil Aeronautics Administration, under the leadership of Charlie Home. And I am sure that the interest and understanding created by the Doolittle report has also had something to do with it.

I have been very much interested in aviation ever since I came to Washington as a Member of the United States Senate. In the Senate, I was a member of two committees that had jurisdiction over aviation matters, the Committee on Interstate Commerce and the Committee on Military Affairs.

I remember very well when the Congress passed the Civil Aeronautics Act of 1938. I was in charge of the subcommittee that held hearings on the bill and reported it to the Senate. This has proved to be an excellent law. It has worked remarkably well, especially when you consider the phenomenal growth of the aviation industry and the remarkable technological advances that have been made since it was passed.

I have been particularly interested in these matters during my term as President. The President, you know, has a special relationship with the Civil Aeronautics Board that is different from his relationship with other regulatory commissions. In the case of international and overseas air transportation, the actions of the Civil Aeronautics Board on route certificates and things of that kind must be approved by the President. The reason for this, of course, is because international air routes have a direct and important bearing upon our foreign relations and our national defense.

One of the results of this system is that it gives the President a good many hot potatoes to handle--but the President gets a lot of hot potatoes from every direction anyhow, and a man who can't handle them has no business in that job. That makes me think of a saying that I used to hear from my old friend and colleague on the Jackson County Court. He said, "Harry, if you can't stand the heat you better get out of the kitchen." I'll say that is absolutely true.

Considering the criticism of some of the decisions I have made on these matters, I have been pleasantly surprised from time to time to learn that international aviation is not in a completely ruinous condition. The airlines, I am told, are still flying back and forth from this country to the others, and actually doing a great deal of business.

When Don Nyrop resigned as Chairman of the Civil Aeronautics Board, he brought me a book containing the history of the Presidential decisions in airline cases and the growth of international aviation since I became President. I will have to confess to you that the record is even better than I thought it was going to be. This report showed, for instance, that during the period from April 12, 1945--that's when I took office as President--to September 30, 1952, the route mileage of the United States international and overseas carriers increased from 75,000 miles to 240,000; revenue plane miles of these carriers increased from 26 million to 103 million; and total operating revenues increased from $50 million to $300 million-that is an increase of 500 percent over 7 years. So I didn't put them out of business, after all.

Now I think that is a pretty remarkable record. The American aviation industry, of course, is responsible for making the record and is entitled to the credit. And this program means a lot to the strength and security of the United States.

Our progress in civil aviation is indeed impressive, but the most startling technical advances in aviation have, as we all know, been made in the .military field.

We take great satisfaction in these technical advances. We are honoring here tonight some of the men whose work is making those advances possible. But our satisfaction arises from the fact that only by such advances can we build up the power which is necessary to keep aggression and conquest from plunging the world into a third world war. We are throwing our energies into military aviation because we want to prevent war. We are developing new techniques and new weapons in the hope that they will never have to be used.

Our aim is peace: we must never, never forget that. But we cannot have peace by being weak, or by falling behind in the technical race. We can have peace only if we have strength--strength so great that would-be aggressors will give up their designs of conquest, and agree to live peaceably in the world with their neighbors, and abide by the principles of the United Nations. That is what we are all working for, and if we go forward, and have faith, and keep calm and patient, I am confident that we will reach that goal.

Note: The President spoke at 9:50 p.m. at the Statler Hotel in Washington. His opening words "Mr. Chairman" referred to Edward E. Slattery, Jr., president of the Aero Club of Washington. He also referred to Albert E. Winger, president and director of Crowell-Collier Publishing Company.

Following his remarks the President presented three aviation awards. Lt. Gen. James H. Doolittle, an official of the Shell Oil Company, received the Wright Memorial Trophy for his contribution to the civilian aviation industry. John Stack, assistant director of the Langley Aeronautical Laboratory, accepted on behalf of his associates the Collier Trophy, awarded in recognition of his group's work in developing a wind tunnel to test supersonic aircraft. Maj. Gen. Lucas V. Beau, commander of the Civil Air Patrol, accepted the Brewer Trophy, which cited the Patrol's contribution to the education of youth in aviation matters.

For the President's letter to Donald W. Nyrop, Chairman, Air Transport Coordinating Committee, transmitting the report of the President's Airport Commission, see Item 155.

On October 15, the White House released the text of the exchange of correspondence in which the President accepted the resignation of Donald W. Nyrop as Chairman of the Civil Aeronautics Board.

Harry S. Truman, Remarks at the Wright Memorial Dinner of the Aero Club of Washington. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/231245

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