Inventing Flight

April 1, 2003

A 17-day festival that has something for everyone

Dayton is justifiably proud of its contribution to the birth of powered flight, and this summer the city is going all out to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Wright brothers' breakthrough. The events planned for the 17-day-long Inventing Flight festival will interest even the nonpilots in your family.

Planners expect 600,000 tourists from July 3 through July 20. The celebration starts with an Olympics-style opening ceremony and ends with the greatly expanded four-day Dayton Air Show that will feature the U.S. Navy Blue Angels, the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, and the Canadian Forces Snowbirds each day. One of those teams appearing alone is enough to draw thousands of spectators, but to have all three back to back daily is unprecedented, show planners said.

The July celebration

On July 4 Dayton's U.S. Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base is the site for a Re/Max Balloon Celebration that promises to attract scores of hot air balloons. That same weekend a gas-balloon race launches from Dayton for Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina.

The following weekend features an International Blimp Meet also based at the U.S. Air Force Museum. Inventing Flight planners hope for seven blimps because that would be the largest gathering since World War II. From July 11 through 13 the Dayton Black Cultural Festival honors the Tuskegee Airmen.

The third weekend is the biggest of them all, and includes the July 17 through 20 Dayton Air Show. On July 18 and 19 the National Aviation Hall of Fame hosts a reunion of all living members. At last count the Hall of Fame, located in the U.S. Air Force Museum, had commitments from 20 members including astronaut and Sen. John Glenn and Neil Armstrong, first man to walk on the moon.

While those major events are associated with weekends, there are ongoing events on weekdays as well. Like the Olympics, there will be a downtown park at Deeds Point to serve as celebration central. At the time of AOPA's visit, the park was in early construction; excavation had been started and parts for a bridge to span the river and link the park to the downtown area were lying along the shore, ready for installation. Inventing Flight's sponsors will host a series of pavilions at Deeds Point, including one aimed solely at teenagers. Another will feature the new Lockheed Joint Strike Fighter, while NASA plans to provide a working control tower exhibit.

Also during July, the Dayton Art Institute will feature a collection of 100 rare photographs taken in France and the United States at the time of the birth of aviation. Among the most notable images is a rare Wright brothers "First Flight" photograph printed from the original negative before the negative was damaged in the 1913 Dayton flood, as well as several images of the Wright brothers' factory in which the first airplanes were manufactured. Scenes from the early days of French aviation include nearly 40 color lithographs depicting airshows and fairs in Europe that focused on powered flight.

Throughout the 17-day period, actors hired by Dayton's Carillon Historical Park will recreate history associated with the Wright brothers. The presentation is called Time Flies: A Living History Experience . Tickets cost $20. Although planning was still in progress at the time of AOPA's visit, the Living History event will include actors recreating aviation history in a series of playlets at the city's various historic sites.

Year-round attractions

Even without all the hoopla, Dayton is a great destination for pilots — given that the city is home to the huge U.S. Air Force Museum and numerous Wright brothers historical sites. By the time you read this the Air Force Museum will have added a third 200,000-square-foot hangar to the two existing ones. A fourth is planned.

Soon to be displayed in the newest hangar are the most modern bombers in the fleet — the Boeing B1-B Lancer and the Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit. The stealth bomber obtained by the museum was once used for structural testing and contains no avionics, so relax, spies. The unmanned aircraft of the latest conflicts, the Predator and the Global Hawk, have recently been added as well. The museum also includes the Lockheed-Boeing-General Dynamics YF-22 (it was built as a team effort); the prototype of the F/A-22 Raptor, the Air Force's next-generation multi-role strike aircraft; and the Boeing Bird of Prey aircraft, a technology demonstrator that paved the way for stealth technology. The North American XB-70 Valkyrie also resides at the Air Force Museum.

Ride a Wright B Flyer

There are hidden treasures in Dayton as well. For example, there's an organization called 1911 Wright B Flyer at, appropriately enough, the Dayton-Wright Brothers Airport in south Dayton that can take you for a short hop in a Wright B look-alike for $150. The airplane uses a modern engine and avionics, but otherwise it is a Wright no-cockpit experience. Contact the organization at 937/885-2327 or visit the Web site ( Offices are open Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

See an exact replica of the Wright brothers' bicycle shop where most of the aeronautical research was done at Dayton's Carillon Historical Park (937/293-2841), so named because there is a carillon there. Staying at the Dayton Marriott on South Patterson Boulevard (937/223-1000) locates you next to the park, a village made of relocated and re-created historical buildings. While devoted broadly to the history of the Dayton area, it includes a replica of the most important of the Wrights' five bicycle shops in Dayton — the one where the 1903 Wright Flyer was built. (No more than two shops were open at the same time.) The original was uprooted and moved to The Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan. The Carillon Historical Park has an original 1905 Wright Flyer III, the first practical airplane because it could turn and circle. It was restored under the supervision of Orville Wright. You'll also see two of only five original Wright bicycles remaining in the world. Other exhibits include the camera that took the famous picture of the liftoff of the Wrights' first successful powered flight.

The Dayton Marriott is also convenient to another of the original bicycle shops — the only one still remaining in Dayton. It was occupied by the Wrights from 1895 to 1897 and was where they worked on the day that they got the idea to accept the challenge of powered flight. The building was nearly demolished before two local authors working on a book about the Wrights found an old photograph of a lady standing in a street holding a cat. In the background was a shop with a sign identifying it as the Wright bicycle shop. Local volunteers who founded Aviation Trail Inc., an organization dedicated to saving Dayton's history, quickly raised money to purchase the building. Plans to level it were canceled. Heavily remodeled since the photo was taken in the late 1890s, the building now has been returned to its design at the time the Wrights used it.

While no aeronautical research was done in the bicycle shop that remains (it is now operated by the National Park Service), it was nonetheless an important step along the way toward the Wrights' ultimate achievement. While at the shop they decided to develop their own line of bicycles and thus became familiar with manufacturing equipment. They also built a small natural-gas engine in 1895 to run the shop machinery, gaining knowledge for their gasoline-fueled aircraft engine.

The shop is located adjacent to a site known as the Hoover (city) block, the location of the Wrights' publishing and printing business now in restoration and set to be completed this summer. It is also one-half block from the now-empty lot where the Wrights' home was located. Like the later bicycle shop where flight was invented, the Wright home was uprooted and moved to Greenfield Village.

You might also want to check out the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery at 2600 DeWeese Parkway; telephone 937/275-7431. The museum and the Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company have partnered for a unique exhibit. The Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company is constructing Wright gliders and Flyers at the museum.

Huffman Prairie

Another often-overlooked location is Huffman Prairie, where the Wrights taught themselves to fly in 1904 and 1905. Their Wright Company returned to the site in 1910 to test planes coming out of its factory. Huffman Prairie is located on the grounds of Wright Patterson Air Force Base, but a new interpretation center recently has been opened near the Wright Brothers Memorial monument on Wright Hill a mile away. Huffman Prairie was closed during World War II and closed to visitors again after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. As of press time visitors could drive onto the Air Force grounds again and view the field where the Wrights taught 119 people to fly, including five-star Gen. Hap Arnold. In 1947, when the Air Force became a separate service, President Harry Truman made Arnold the only five-star "General of the Air Force."

The real reason to visit Wright Hill and its new Huffman Prairie Flying Field Interpretive Center is to hear Park Ranger Bob Petersen recount the history of powered flight. His in-depth knowledge and enthusiasm make for an entertaining guide to the lives of the Wright brothers. He reports that there are only five original Wright aircraft remaining in the world. Two are in Dayton, one is in the Smithsonian Institution, another is in the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, and one is in Munich, Germany, where the Wrights gave demonstration flights.

Flying to Dayton

A dozen local airports have been designated as host airports. Efforts are in progress to establish a shuttle service from the airports to downtown Dayton. Information on flying to the celebration is available online ( There you will find a list of host airports and the approximate driving time to Deeds Point in downtown Dayton.

All attractions can be reached on buses operating from Deeds Point. Planning officials hope to have shuttle vans operating to the airports.

And if you are looking for a place to eat, look no farther than Jay's Restaurant (937/222-2892) in the Historical Oregon District near Dayton's convention center. The locals claim it is one of the finest seafood restaurants in the eastern United States. Careful research.there by this author two evenings in a row reveals no reason to dispute that claim. Entrées are in the $20 range, with a full meal usually topping out at $30 per person. It's a popular place and reservations are suggested.

E-mail the author at [email protected].

Dayton's Aviation Trail

Historical sites tell of conquest of the air

Dayton's Aviation Trail offers a fascinating history of aviation's early years. Here we highlight 12 of its 47 historical sites. A full list is available in the book A Field Guide to Flight on the Aviation Trail, sold in Dayton area stores.

  1. The Wright Cycle Company, 22 South Williams Street, Dayton, Ohio 45407; telephone 937/225-7705. Will be open seven days a week except holidays starting in May. Free admission.
  2. Paul Laurence Dunbar State Memorial, 219 North Paul Laurence Dunbar Street, Dayton, Ohio 45407. Dunbar was a classmate of Orville Wright, and the Wright brothers printed Dunbar's weekly newspaper, The Tattler. He later became famous as a poet.
  3. Kettering-Moraine Museum, 35 Moraine Circle South, Kettering, Ohio 45439. Exhibits include furniture from Hawthorn Hill, the Wright mansion in nearby Oakwood, Ohio. There are also displays about Charles F. Kettering and the Dayton Wright Airplane Company, started by Kettering and Edward A. Deeds. Their company manufactured aircraft for World War I. A downtown park is named after Deeds.
  4. Carillon Historical Park, 1000 Carillon Boulevard, Dayton, Ohio 45409; telephone 937/293-2841. An original 1905 Wright Flyer III is housed in Wright Hall and was the world's first practical airplane. Next door is a replica of the bicycle shop in which the Wrights built their 1903 Wright Flyer.
  5. Woodland Cemetery and Arboretum, 118 Woodland Avenue, Dayton, Ohio 45409; telephone 937/228-3221. The Wrights, their parents, and their sister are buried in Woodland Cemetery, as is Paul Laurence Dunbar.
  6. U.S. Air Force Museum, Springfield Pike at Gate 29B, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio 45433; telephone 937/255-3286. The oldest and largest military aviation museum in the world, it contains nearly 300 aircraft, including four retired presidential airplanes that visitors can tour. It includes an IMAX theater, restaurant, gift shop, and aviation bookstore.
  7. The National Aviation Hall of Fame, U.S. Air Force Museum (see above). Honors outstanding individuals in aviation.
  8. Wright Brothers Memorial, Kauffman Road off Route 444, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio 45433. Located on top of Wright Brothers Hill overlooking Huffman Prairie Flying Field, where the Wrights conducted early tests. The Huffman Prairie Flying Field Interpretative Center located there, open seven days a week except holidays, features talks by Ranger Bob Petersen and movies of the Wrights in flight.
  9. Huffman Prairie Flying Field, Route 444, Wright-Paterson Air Force Base, Ohio 45433; telephone 937/257-5535. Used by the Wrights in 1904 and 1905, and again from 1910 to 1916. A replica of the Wrights' 1905 hangar has been erected near the original site.
  10. Wright State University, 3640 Colonel Glenn Highway, Dayton, Ohio 45435; telephone 937/775-2092. Contains 6,000 items constituting one of the most complete records of the lives and work of the Wrights in the nation. Materials are open for research.
  11. Wright B Flyer, Dayton-Wright Brothers Airport, 10550 Springboro Pike (Route 741), Miamisburg, Ohio 45342; telephone 937/885-2327. This Wright B look-alike is flying and is used to give rides to the public at $150 per person. It is open Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Most flights are on Saturdays. The Wright B was the first mass-produced airplane and was produced from 1910 to 1911.
  12. Waco Museum and Aviation Learning Center, 105 South Market Street, Troy, Ohio 45373; telephone 937/335-9226. The Waco Aircraft Company was the world's largest manufacturer of civilian airplanes during the 1920s and 1930s. The Waco Historical Society also operates a 1930s-type grass airfield at 1865 South County Road 25A in Troy. The AOPA sweepstakes Waco UPF-7 was built in Troy.
Al Marsh

Alton K. Marsh | AOPA Pilot Senior Editor, AOPA

AOPA Pilot Senior Editor Alton Marsh has been a pilot since 1970 and has an airline transport pilot certificate and instrument and multiengine flight instructor certificates, aerobatic training, and a commercial seaplane certificate.