These are exciting times for Dayton, Ohio.
Historian David McCullough’s biography of Wilbur and Orville Wright, The Wright Brothers, is causing a new flurry of appreciation for the Dayton-born brothers’ achievements in flight. Actor Tom Hanks and HBO have acquired the rights to the McCullough book and are said to be planning a miniseries.
And it appears that efforts to restore the Wrights’ original factory are moving forward. The not-for-profit National Aviation Heritage Alliance (NAHA) is finalizing plans to purchase the property, which is owned by a redevelopment company.
The 56-acre parcel contains automotive as well as aviation history, National Aviation Heritage Alliance Executive Director Tony Sculimbrene said Oct. 2. It was the first aircraft manufacturing facility in the United States. Aircraft production ceased in 1916. General Motors bought the factory in 1919 and converted it to auto manufacturing.
“We want to blend both of those in the stories we want to tell,” Sculimbrene said.
The factory is the birthplace of America’s aviation industry and aerospace workforce, he said, as well as the location of the very first flight simulator. While the Wrights operated their Wright Flying School at Huffman Prairie Flying Field during mild weather, people who came to Wilbur for flying lessons first spent hours at the factory learning how to operate the controls in a Wright biplane. These students included Gen. Henry “Hap” Arnold; Marjorie Stinson, the first female air mail student; and Edward Stinson, founder of Stinson Aircraft Co.
“You’re walking in the footsteps of people like Hap Arnold and other aviation pioneers” when you visit the Wright factory, Sculimbrene said.
The Wrights constructed two factory buildings on the site. In the succeeding years, more buildings were added. In 2009, a 20-acre parcel that includes the original Wright Co. buildings was added to the boundary of the National Park Service’s Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park. That entity has been working with the National Aviation Heritage Alliance, the city of Dayton, and the redevelopment company on plans to restore the Wright Co. buildings. The National Aviation Heritage Alliance is looking at a range of complementary uses for the property adjacent to the buildings, including a possible new branch of the Dayton library.
In the meantime, Wright “B” Flyer Inc. has said it will build a modern version of the Wrights’ first production airplane in the factory. The volunteer organization flies and displays lookalikes of Wright Model B airplanes to promote Dayton’s aviation heritage.
The build may take place in 2016, with assistance from the Experimental Aircraft Association, Sculimbrene said.
Free monthly tours of the Wright Co. Factory are available through the end of 2015. Tours will take place Oct. 15, Nov. 19, and Dec. 17.