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America's Airports: Birthplace of AviationAmerica's Airports: Birthplace of Aviation

It’s a brisk, blustery day in southwest Ohio; even the faces of Wilbur and Orville Wright, painted on a hangar wall, look cold. Coming in from an early morning flight, instructor Donna Hanshew and her student, Bryan Adcock, are windblown and beaten from a lesson held in a bouncy Cessna 172 in the windy skies over Dayton.

It’s a brisk, blustery day in southwest Ohio; even the faces of Wilbur and Orville Wright, painted on a hangar wall, look cold. Coming in from an early morning flight, instructor Donna Hanshew and her student, Bryan Adcock, are windblown and beaten from a lesson held in a bouncy Cessna 172 in the windy skies over Dayton. But the cold and wind dampens neither 20-year-old Adcock’s enthusiasm for flying nor Hanshew’s passion for instruction. “Last fall we had our highest enrollment ever,” Hanshew exclaims. “And we had a one-hundred-percent placement rate. This is the time to get into aviation!”
Hanshew is a part-time instructor for Aviation Sales, Inc., one of two FBOs at Dayton-Wright Brothers Airport, located 10 miles south of the city. She is also a professor in the aviation department of Sinclair Community College in Dayton. Wright Brothers is one of the more than 173 public-use airports in the state of Ohio and one of 735 airstrips in the state. In 1964, Ohio Governor James A. Rhodes proclaimed that there should be a paved-runway airport in every county in the state.

The effects of the economy

Tom Card, customer service manager of Aviation Sales, fields calls from based owners planning trips and from corporate and fractional pilots inbound to Dayton. He also commits one act during this day that is symbolic of the state of aviation—he raises the posted price of 100LL from $3.95 per gallon to $4.05 on the company bulletin board. Aviation Sales has been around since 1958 and also is an FBO at James M. Cox Dayton International Airport north of Dayton. What was once its indoor showroom is now an empty room that on this day is being used by the City of Dayton for a polling place—it’s election day in Ohio.

Over at Commander-Aero, Inc.—the other FBO—the line guys are hanging around. “The cost of avgas has gone up more than a buck in the eight months I’ve been working here,” says Guy Seaton, a line service technician. But—even though Flight Line Manager Billy Sexton says, “they’re busting everybody down with fuel costs and taxes”—there’s an optimism for aviation here at Wright Brothers. Inside the massive hangar that Commander-Aero occupies—a hangar built by the original owner of the airfield, Charles Kettering, creator of the automobile’s all-electric starter and a compatriot of the Wright brothers—the place is practically singing. Twin Commanders and Cirrus aircraft are jammed together like a happy pack of puppies, waiting for Commander-Aero’s skilled mechanics to groom them back into shape.

Twin Commander owner Scott Denham of Miami, Florida, is here supervising work on his aircraft. He says he took his airplane to another shop before he found Commander-Aero. “These guys are miracle workers,” he proclaims.

Remembering the history

Although Wright Brothers is a thoroughly modern airport, it has not forgotten its origins. This is where the EAA “Race to Oshkosh” begins—“so cool” says Guy Seaton—and where a replica of the 1911 Wright “B” Flyer is housed. It’s behind those hangar walls on which Orville and Wilbur’s faces are painted. The Flyer was designed and built and is flown—yes, flown—by Dayton-area volunteers. Visitors can actually fly in the aircraft down the mile-long runway at about 60 to 70 mph 100 feet or so off the ground. “It’s sort of like sitting in a Mixmaster,” says volunteer Ed Logan. “Or a Harley-Davidson without a windshield,” adds volunteer Ned Huesman.

There are no Flyer flights on this cold windy Tuesday, but on a typical summer Saturday, there can be 10 to 12 flights a day. The replica was built in the 1970s and has been flying for 25 years, since its maiden voyage in July 1982. Visitors must fly with a pilot, and they and their families and guests are driven out to the runway in the “staff car,” a Ford Model T.

Day is done

As the number of people coming in to vote dwindles, the polling supervisor comes over to the Aviation Sales desk and says to Tom Card, “I guess we can call this a reasonably quiet day at the airport.” Card agrees, although he has two jets inbound, one to discharge passengers and one to pick up passengers who arrived this morning. The Cessna Citation jets arrive within minutes of one another. NetJets Capt. Tim Thompson says of the large Labradoodle who was one of his passengers that he—or she—flew well, strapped in  like the other several passengers on the flight from Florida. Thompson buys fuel from Card and prepares for an hour-long night flight to Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C. Wouldn’t Orville and Wilbur be amazed at the state of aviation today?

E-mail the author at [email protected].

AOPA PILOT ONLINE
See the series “A Day in the Life of America’s Airports,” which features stories on 11 general aviation airports, additional photos, and video on AOPA Pilot Online.

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