Donald Trump raised eyebrows with a bizarre historical blunder during his patriotic 4th of July address on Thursday, claiming the army of what was to become the United States "took over the airports" in the 18th century War of Independence.

The US president suggested American domination of the skies was a factor in its victory in the fight against British rule – despite this being well over a century before the invention of the aeroplane. 

He said: “In June of 1775, the Continental Congress created a unified army out of the revolutionary forces encamped around Boston and New York … The Continental Army suffered a bitter winter of Valley Forge, found glory across the waters of the Delaware, and seized victory from Cornwallis of Yorktown.

“Our army manned the air, it rammed the ramparts, it took over the airports, it did everything it had to do, and at Fort McHenry, under the rockets’ red glare, it had nothing but victory.”

The Wright Brothers did not make the first flight of an aircraft until 1903, in North Carolina. Mr Trump had also lauded the brothers earlier in his speech.

The statement included other inaccuracies. The British General Cornwallis Mr Trump referenced was in fact from London and was defeated at Yorktown, and he also incorrectly claimed the Continental Army was named after George Washington.

Observers also pointed out that the US leader appeared to have confused the 18th century War of Independence with the War of 1812. Fort McHenry is the military bastion famous for successfully defending Baltimore Harbour from the British Navy’s bombardment during the later conflict, and the phrase "the rockets’ red glare’ comes from the Francis Scott Key poem The Defense of Fort M’Henry that went on to form the lyrics of the US national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner.

Mr Trump told reporters Friday that at one point during his speech the rain knocked out his teleprompter.

"That’s not a good feeling," Mr Trump said as he departed the White House for New Jersey, adding, "I knew the speech very well so I was able to do it without a teleprompter."

Mr Trump’s July 4 speech was an ode to US military might, particularly notable for the display of American tanks in the prominent locations in the capital – an idea apparently inspired by the president’s visit to Paris for Bastille Day. 

He was the first president in nearly seven decades to address a crowd at the National Mall on Independence Day, which is usually treated as a non-political celebration. 

Amid well-planned displays of pomp, the president told stories about each branch of the US military as he introduced separate fly-overs of military aircraft.

"For over 65 years, no enemy Air Force has managed to kill a single American soldier. Because the skies belong to the United States of America," he said.

He told crowds "our nation is stronger than it ever was before" as he spoke outside the memorial to former US president Abraham Lincoln.

"That same American spirit that emboldened our founders has kept us strong throughout our history. To this day that spirit runs through the veins of every American patriot," Mr Trump said. "It lives on in each and every one of you here today. It is the spirit, daring and defiance, excellence and adventure, courage and confidence, loyalty and love that built this country into the most exceptional nation in the history of the world, and our nation is stronger today than it ever was before. It is its strongest now."

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