The Wright Brothers Trail in Dayton, Ohio

Wilbur Wright, born in 1867, and Orville Wright, born four yeas later in 1871, had been two of five children and would ultimately be credited with invention of the airplane. Although their predecessors, among them Sir George Cayley, Jean-Marie Le Brie, Clement Ader, Otto Lillienthal, Octave Chanute, and Samuel Pierpoint Langley, had attempted to conquer flight, it had been the Wright Brothers themselves who had been the first to successfully fly a controlled, powered, heavier-than-air aircraft on December 17, 1903 at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in the form of the Wright Flyer because they had applied a systematic approach to solving the technological and aerodynamic problems associated with flight, focusing on three parameters:

1. Lift
2. Propulsion
3. Balance and control

The original Wright Flyer is currently displayed in the National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

Bishop Milton Wright, Wilbur and Orville’s father, had once stated, “neither could have mastered the problem alone. As inseparable twins, they are indispensable to each other.”

Dayton itself, which is served by Dayton International Airport or can alternatively be accessed by flying to Cincinnati followed by a 45-minute northerly drive on Interstate 75 or flying to Columbus followed by a 90-minute westerly drive on Interstate 70, comprises the National Aviation Heritage Area, whose self-guided “Aviation Trail” includes 13 aviation-related sights.

One of the most important of these is the Wright Cycle Company. By late 1892, the joint Wilbur-and-Orville printing venture, hitherto highly successful, had begun to diminish in importance, and interest turned to the bicycle. Both brothers had, after all, been mechanics and excellent riders and, with sufficient funding, opened a bicycle sales shop on West Third Street in Dayton. With increasing demand, and the emerging need for repairs and servicing, they moved to several successively larger shops, ultimately designing their own bicycle brand, the Van Cleve, thus forming the Wright Cycle Company.

The bicycle, however, had proved to be the first step to the airplane. Both had been mechanically based and the Wright Brothers adopted bicycle technology to aeronautical design, by analyzing their control method commonality. It had been in the back of just such a bicycle shop where the world’s first aircraft had taken shape.

The brick Wright Cycle shop located at 22 South William Street next to the Hoover Block, one of only two original Wright Brothers buildings still standing in their original locations in the West Side neighborhood where the Wrights had lived, worked, and invented the airplane, and a National Historic Landmark, had been occupied between 1895 and 1897. Today, the building features the original wood plank floors, a workshop, several Wright Van Cleve bicycles, and interactive displays demonstrating bicycle technology application toward the airplane and balance comparatives between the two.

Another significant Wright Brothers sight on the Aviation Trail is Huffman Prairie Flying Field. Although initial flight experimentations had occurred in North Carolina, it had quickly become unfeasible to continue flying from there for three primary reasons:

1. The distance between North Carolina and Ohio to repair one of many numerous parts in the more fully-equipped Dayton workshop had become prohibitive.
2. The sand on Kill Devil Hill would ultimately damage the engine.
3. Correct wind direction, tantamount to flight, often failed to materialize, resulting in countless days of inactivity.

In order to remedy the deficiencies, the Wrights received permission to use an 84-acre cow pasture nine miles northeast of Dayton called “Huffman Prairie” whose layer of clay and frost heaves obviated tree growth, yet provided a surface soft enough to cushion hard landings.

It had been from this field that they had tested the successor to the original Wright Flyer, the Wright Flyer II. Powered by a larger, 15-16 hp engine with increased propeller width, the modified, more ambitious design featured white pine wing spars with spruce; a longer, 40-foot wingspan; reduced wing camber; a larger, aft-relocated fuel tank; and an almost 300-pound gross weight. Take offs had been achieved with a 250-foot-long wooden launch rail, considered the world’s second runway after that of Kitty Hawk.

Because projected winds had failed to produce sufficient airspeed in which to become airborne, a 1,200- to 1,600-pound catapult, erected on September 4, 1904, generated the required 28-mph rotation speed.

Of the 105 mostly-short flights conducted in 1904, the longest had covered three miles and remained aloft for five minutes and eight seconds. Between 1910 and 1916, the Wright Company operated a flying school here, training more than 100 of the world’s first pilots for the Wright Exhibition Team and the military. In 1917, the US Army Signal Corps purchased the field, along with 2,000 adjacent acres, and renamed it Wilbur Wright Field, subsequently establishing Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in 1948.

Today, Huffman Prairie Flying Field, the world’s first “airport,” remains exactly the way it had been during the Wright Brothers’ test flights, with a replica of the Wrights’ 1905 hangar (again the world’s first), a replica of their catapult system, and National Park Service interpretive signs. The nearby Huffman Prairie Flying Field Interpretive Center offers exhibits which focus on the 1904-1905 experimental flights, the 1910-1916 flying school, and the history of the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

The Wright Flyer III, yet another important Aviation Trail sight, is located in Carillon Historical Park, a 65-acre outdoor museum opened in 1950 whose 24 attractions deal with invention, settlement, industry, and transportation. The aircraft, seven feet longer than the Wright Flyer II and the third design evolution after the original Wright Flyer, for the first time featured decoupled wing-warping and rudder controls, the former the initial method of banking along the longitudinal axis which had been later achieved with ailerons. With its three axes of flight-pitch, roll, and yaw-thus independently controllable by September of 1905, the design, with larger horizontal and vertical stabilizers and upward-curving skids, had eliminated turn-induced stall tendencies and had been able to perform a wide range of aerial maneuvers, including banks, circles, and figure-eights. With an endurance exceeding 30 minutes, it provided the training aircraft in which countless others had learned to fly.

A 1908 modification entailed the installation of a more power engine, reconfigured controls, and, for the first time, passenger provision on the lower wing surface.

The Wright Flyer III, housed in Carillon Historical Park’s Wright Hall, had been restored under the personal direction of Orville Wright.

The National Museum of the United States Air Force, adjacent to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and the largest sight on the Aviation Trail, is the world’s largest and oldest military aviation museum, and features more than 300 aircraft and 6,000 historical artifacts housed in 17 acres of indoor display hangars spanning the history of aviation from its Wright Brothers inception to the current stealth aircraft technology. The facility contains an atrium entrance, an IMAX theater, a gift shop, a bookstore, a cafe, the National Aviation Hall of Fame, an outdoor Air Park and Memorial Park, and seven galleries: Early Years, Air Power, Modern Flight, Cold War, Missile/Space, Presidential Aircraft, and Research and Development/Flight Test Aircraft. Significant exhibits, to name only a scant few, include the North American XB-70 Valkyrie, the Wright 1909 Military Flyer, the Bleriot Monoplane, the Curtiss JN-4D Jenny, the Nieuport 28, the Sopwith Camel, the Fokker D.VII, the de Havilland DH.4, the North American B-25B Mitchell, the Consolidated B-24D Liberator, the Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress, the Boeing B-52D Stratofortress, the Convair B-36J Peacemaker, the Boeing WB-50D Superfortress, the Boeing RB-47H Stratojet, and the Lockheed SR-71A Blackbird.

For an airline industry employee, a visit to Dayton, “Birthplace of Aviation,” seems an obligation. After all, without it, there would have been no airline industry in which to work…

A graduate of Long Island University-C.W. Post Campus with a summa-cum-laude BA Degree in Comparative Languages and Journalism, I have subsequently earned the Continuing Community Education Teaching Certificate from the Nassau Association for Continuing Community Education (NACCE) at Molloy College, the Travel Career Development Certificate from the Institute of Certified Travel clevescene Agents (ICTA) at LIU, and the AAS Degree in Aerospace Technology at the State University of New York – College of Technology at Farmingdale. Having amassed almost three decades in the airline industry, I managed the New York-JFK and Washington-Dulles stations at Austrian Airlines, created the North American Station Training Program, served as an Aviation Advisor to Farmingdale State University of New York, and devised and taught the Airline Management Certificate Program at the Long Island Educational Opportunity Center. A freelance author, I have written some 70 books of the short story, novel, nonfiction, essay, poetry, article, log, curriculum, training manual, and textbook genre in English, German, and Spanish, having principally focused on aviation and travel, and I have been published in book, magazine, newsletter, and electronic Web site form. I am a writer for Cole Palen’s Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome in New York. I have made some 350 lifetime trips by air, sea, rail, and road.


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *