Thursday, October 13, 2016

Aviation Heritage Trail - Dayton, OH

One day, we are airborne. Sixty-six years later, we are walking on the moon.

What the Wright Brothers accomplished is the Great American Story. My favorite one.  So I find myself on the doorstep of another historic site I’ve wanted to visit for a long while. Dayton, OH – where it all began.

Two brothers, neither scientists nor engineers, decide they want to fly. They relentlessly pursue this dream despite little spare time and no outside funding.

Orville and Wilbur's story is deeply interesting, even without the flying bits. You'll learn much about their pre-flight lives by visiting Dayton - their life-long home. 

Newspaper publishers, printers, bicycle mechanics, first pilots. 

Apparently, their deep curiosity and mechanical ability came from their mother, Susan, a tinkerer who often made toys for her children and various household gadgets.

You can visit the 4th of their 5 bike shops (the only one that still exists).  It's not hard to imagine Orville and Wilbur working on flight mechanics between customers.

The brothers' most popular bike model.

I've visited Kitty Hawk on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, one of my favorite historical sites in the National Park System. Here's one of their photos of their home during the summers of 1900 - 1903.

We have to remember, at the time, there were no manuals, no data, and no models regarding mechanical flight. The brothers had to conquer the three central problems of 1) lift 2) power and 3) control. How they persistently and methodically overcame these massive obstacles is the miracle of the story.

One example of their brilliant determination was puzzling out the aerodynamics of lift. How did they decipher the mystery? They invented the world’s first wind tunnel, course! 


And so they methodically worked the problems and learned from their many failures from their first gliders until their triumphant fully-controlled motorized 1905 Wright Flyer. 

Meticulous notes. 

Trial and error. Trial and error.

The various sites along the Aviation Heritage Trail include displays of intriguing artifacts. Turns out, Orville was an accomplished bike racer. (Wilbur preferred long rides around the countryside).

 I love this photo of Wilbur in New York City in 1909.  What a show-off! 

 Dayton's Carillon Park houses a replica of the 1905 flyer.  The last flyer they built by hand was fully motorized and controlled and flew for 40 minutes at a time, witnessed by astonished locals. 

The location of these flights has also been preserved as a National Park Site at Huffman's Prairie, on the grounds of present-day Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. 

Turns out, the pieces of the original 1905 were scattered - some muslin here, some gears there. So Orville oversaw the painstaking reproduction. He wanted the airplane to be displayed below floor level so visitors can see the mechanics. It's a wonder.  

The last airplane the first pilot ever built. 

Note: the original 1903 first-flight Kitty Hawk plane is housed in the Smithsonian. 

There is so much more to the story. Even the details of that famous photo at the top of the post is fascinating. I recommend my favorite bio of the brothers by David McCullough.  

Left: Orville 1871 - 1948
Right: Wilbur 1867 - 1912


  1. I agree with your special admiration for these two. They literally lifted humanity up. Thanks for the museum detailed shots.

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  3. Nice write-up, Kim. This is another place I've been close too (while visiting the National IS Airforce Museum) but never visited. I too have been to Kitty Hawk and found it fascinating.


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