Aviation History Month: A Look Through History with SAE International’s Most Notable Aviators and Achievements

By Rachel Wetzel posted 12-12-2022 09:57 AM


Many aviators wouldn’t have gotten off the ground without SAE International.

Several key aviators and technologies have been a part of SAE’s illustrious history, and this Aviation History Month, we’re looking back and celebrating the impact they’ve had on the development of industry as they’ve shaped today’s aerospace landscape.


In 1916, the word automotive replaced automobile in SAE’s name to include any kind of self-propelled vehicle. This opened the door for future generations of aviation specialists worldwide.

Representatives from the American Society of Aeronautic Engineers and the Society of Tractor Engineers attended SAE’s annual meeting in 1916 and asked for oversight of technical standards in their industry. Elmer Sperry, internationally renowned for the navigational gyroscope, invented the word “automotive” to give recognition to the aeronautical engineers that were going to join SAE. Along with Sperry, Orville Wright, inventor of the world’s first successful motor-operated airplane and SAE member, was an early advocate of combining automobile and aero engineering talent.  

The merging of societies formed a new society representing engineers in all types of mobility-related professions; the most influential chapter of SAE was just beginning.


The United States Government specifically requested aid from SAE in both world wars, prompting SAE to draw upon the personal talents of members and staff.

When World War I began, SAE was only nine years old. Despite being a relative newcomer, SAE was instrumental to advancements made during this time, with several SAE members making significant contributions to both world wars.

Jesse G. Vincent and Elbert J. Hall designed the World War I Liberty aircraft engine, America’s most important contribution to aeronautical technology during the war. From their ideas and actions, SAE members made it clear to those responsible for carrying out the war efforts that SAE held the key to unlocking the engineering potential of the aircraft industry.

Charles Matthews Manly was another outstanding pioneer in aircraft engine design and development. He served as SAE President in 1919, making industry executives aware of SAE’s potential and accomplishments in the technical and standards programs.

Captain Eddie V. Rickenbacker was a pilot for the United States Military during both world wars. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his service during World War 1, where he attacked seven German aircraft alone despite all odds against him. In World War II, Captain Rickenbacker’s plane got lost & crashed into the Pacific, leaving himself and seven other men stranded on a rubber raft for nearly a month. The Detroit Section of the Society of Automotive Engineers held a reception at the Book Cadillac in January 1943, in honor of Captain Rickenbacker, who was visiting for the first time since his rescue from the Pacific.

Following the conclusion of World War II, James M. Crawford, the 1945 SAE President, received a letter signed by the President of the Unites States, Harry S. Truman, thanking the technical committees for their extensive and practical contributions to victory in World War II. The committees work in developing standards guided the enormous production programs of the era.


In addition to the aviators involved in Americas war efforts, there are many SAE members who were also celebrities.

Amelia Earhart was a prominent member of SAE International. A pioneer for women, especially for women in STEM, she made history as the first woman to make a solo flight across the Atlantic.

As technology continued to develop throughout the years, SAE standards matched the leaps industry made to continue providing aircraft safety into the jet age.

 In 1996, the S-18 committee released two standards that are known today as the twin pillars of modern aviation safety:

Current SAE members are part of the push toward electric powered aircraft and use of sustainable aviation fuels. As technology like vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) continues to evolve, SAE is on the front lines of aviation innovation.


There are countless members of SAE that have made an impact on our world today from all realms of engineering.

Today, SAE International is a leader in the aviation industry, helping to ensure the safety and reliability of all aspects of aviation from aircraft design and flight controls to aviation fuels and communications. After over 100 years of involvement in aerospace, SAE continues to serve as a forum for the exchange of cutting-edge technical information to advance mobility knowledge and solutions for the benefit of humanity.

Could you be the next revolutionary aerospace innovator from SAE? Become a member to be a part of history in the making.