Friday, June 28, 2013

The U.S. Air Force

Five years after Orville and Wilbur Wright made the first successful airplane flight in 1903, they signed a contract with the U.S. Department of War for the first military airplane.

From that small start grew the U.S. Air Force, one of the most powerful fighting forces in the world.

At first, military aviation was part of the U.S. Army. During World War I, pilots such as Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, who shot down 23 German planes over France, became national heroes. But few people foresaw the crucial role air power would play in future wars.

One who did was General Billy Mitchell, who urged the U.S. to create a strong air force. He was proved right during World War II, when the ability of the U.S. to control the air was a key factor in its victories.

In 1947, the U.S. Air Force became a separate branch of the U.S. armed forces. Since then, its pilots have performed expertly in Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, and wherever  conflicts have arisen.

Also in 1947, the U.S. Air Force pilot Chuck Yeager, flying a rocket-powered X-1, became the first person to fly faster than the speed of sound.

Air Force men and women have placed key roles in the development of new aircraft and technology.

Today, about 500,000 people serve in the U.S. Air Force, which is divided  into 12 commands, including the Strategic Air Command and the Tactical Air Command.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Nat Turner's Rebellion

On the night of August 21, 1831, Nat Turner led a small band of fellow slaves into the Southhampton, Virginia, home of Joseph Travis, his owner. The slaves killed Travis and his family, and launched the bloodiest slave revolt in American history.

Nathaniel Turner was born into slavery on October 2, 1800. Recognizing the boy's intelligence, Travis allowed him to learn to read and write -- skills forbidden too most slaves.

When he was in his twenties, Turner began to have visions. In one, he saw "white spirits and black spirits engaging in battle". He knew, he later said, that he had been chosen by God to lead the slaves to freedom.

Turner himself planned the uprising. On that deadly night in 1831, Turner first killed the Travis family and then headed for Jerusalem, Virginia, enlisting more slaves along the way. During the next two days, violence reigned.

Some 70 slaves were killed nearly 60 white men, women, and children before the rebellion was stopped. As a result of the revolt, more than 100 slaves, many of them innocent, were shot to death or later tried and hanged. Turner was captured on October 30 and hanged on November 11, 1831.

As a result of Turner's rebellion, southern states enacted harsher slave laws. But the revolt strengthened the antislavery movement in the North.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Signing of the Mayflower Compact

After two long months at sea, the mood on the Mayflower was as foul as the weather. The ship had left Plymouth England, carrying two groups of passengers. One group, the "Saints," wanted to practice their religion far from England's established church. The other, the "Strangers," came to America seeking  a better life. Now, with land in sight, the two groups argued about how they would run their colony.

William Bradford, the leader of the Saints, worried that the Strangers would not obey a government created by his group. So he proposed that all adult men on board pledge to accept whatever government was formed in the new colony. The Strangers agreed.

On November 11, 1620, the Mayflower Compact was signed by 41 men, Saints and Strangers.

In the compact, the groups agreed to "...combine ourselves into a civil body politic, for our better ordering and preservation....and to enact, constitute and frame such just and equal shall be thought most...convenient for the general good of the colony."

With the Mayflower Compact, the Saints and Strangers created a model for people, who voluntarily came together to form a democratic government.

Today, the Saints and Strangers are known as the Pilgrims. Among the original Strangers were Captain Myles Standish, John Alden, and Priscilla Mullins.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Samuel Langley's Aerodrome

On May 6, 1896, spectators lined the banks of Washington’s Potomac River to watch the grand experiment. Using a catapult on top of a houseboat, Samuel Langley launched  his “aerodrome,” a 16-foot-long, 25-pound unmanned aircraft with two sets of silk-covered wings. Powered by a steam engine and two propellers, the craft rose 100 feet above the water and flew half  a mile down the river before dropping gently to the water. This was the first sustained flight by a heavier-than-air, powered vehicle.

Langley was an astrophysicist whose studies of solar radiation had earlier won him international recognition. In 1887, he had become secretary of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. There he began studying how surfaces move through the air. Working with model planes powered  by rubber bands, he experimented with different designs until he launched his “aerodrome” in 1896.
Langley’s efforts to launch an aircraft with a man aboard were not successful, probably because  of structural weaknesses in his designs. But he lived to see his dream of manned, powered flight come true when the Wright brothers made their historic flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in 1903.

The U.S. Navy’s first aircraft carrier, the USS Langley, honored Langley’s pioneering work, Langley Air Force Base in Virginia is also named for him.

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Cubans in America

Before Fidel Castro's Communist regime took power in Cuba in 1959, only 50,000 Cubans lived in the U.S.

Since then, hundreds of thousands of Cubans have fled the repression and economic problems of their homeland. Today, there are more than one million Cubans in the United States.

Many Cuban-Americans live in New York City, New Jersey, and California. But the vast majority live in and around Miami, Florida. There, about  150 miles from Havana, Cuba's capital, Cuban culture has taken root.

The heart of Miami's Cuban community is an area known as Little Havana. Spanish is the language of commerce there, and the Cuban way life prevails. Because many Cuban immigrants are well-educated professionals and skilled workers. Cuban-Americans are among the most prosperous of immigrant groups. They are a vital link between the United States and Latin American business communities, and a powerful political force in Florida and the nation.

American culture has been enriched by such Cuban-Americans as actor Andy Garcia, singer Gloria Estefan, writer Oscar Hijuelos, and the late Desi Arnaz, co-creator of television's I Love Lucy.

Although some Cuban-Americans look forward to returning to Cuba when Castro's government collapses and economic conditions improve, most plan to remain in their new homeland.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Grand Canyon National Park

The Grand Canyon in northern Arizona is nature's greatest sculpture. Up to 18 miles wide, a mile deep, and 280 miles long, this breathtaking gorge contains fantastically shaped peaks, buttes, and ravines.

Equally spectacular are the canyon's colors. The overall red glow changes in hue depending on the time of the day and the cloud cover. The many layers of rock sometimes glisten int he sun and make up dazzling rainbow of purples, pinks, greens, grays, and yellows.

The "sculptor" of the Grand Canyon is the winding Colorado River. Its rapid current sweeps tons of sand and gravel over  the riverbed every minute, scraping and pounding as the grit tumbles downstream. Over the eons, the river has cut steadily downward, while volcanic and seismic forces have thrust the earth upward on either side. Amazingly, the rock layers exposed by the river reveal nearly two billion years of geological history.

More than four million visitors view the Grand Canyon each year. Some hike the Bright Angel Trail to the bottom of the canyon. Others descend by mule, or ride through  on river rafts. Park headquarters and year-round campsites are found on the South Rim. Because of heavy snow, the thickly forested North Rim is closed in the winter.

The land that is now the Grand Canyon once lay beneath a sea. As a result, fossil hunters can find the remains of prehistoric sea creatures in the canyon's walls.