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Published: 6/3/2010

Dayton hails aviation history

BY MIKE KELLY
SPECIAL TO THE BLADE
Animatronic figures of Orville, left, and Wilbur Wright greet visitors to Carillon Historical Park in Dayton. Animatronic figures of Orville, left, and Wilbur Wright greet visitors to Carillon Historical Park in Dayton.
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Throughout the summer, The Blade's Weekender section will feature quick getaways in our Away For The Weekend series, starting this week with a trip down I-75 to the Dayton area.

DAYTON - While some folks in North Carolina might disagree, history is firmly on the side of those who maintain that this mid-sized city in southwestern Ohio is the bona fide birthplace of aviation.

And because it's a straight shot of only 150 miles south on I-75, it's a perfect weekend jaunt for Toledoans interested in learning all about Dayton's favorite sons, a couple of inveterate tinkerers named Wilbur and Orville Wright.

Dayton is justifiably proud of the Wrights, and does its best to make it easy for visitors to learn about their pioneering work here. The local Aviation Trail includes more than a dozen sites in and around the city, some linked to the Wright Brothers and others to later aspects of the area's aviation heritage.

Among them:

•The Wright-Dunbar Interpretive Center tells of the early days of the Wrights and their friend and business associate, Paul Laurance Dunbar, who would go on to become a famous poet. Don't miss the compelling 30-minute movie on the Wright Brothers' struggles and triumphs, with a stirring narration by actor Martin Sheen, a native of Dayton.

•Right next door is the original Wright Cycle Company. Here, the brothers built and repaired bicycles on the first floor and ran a printing business with Dunbar on the second floor. It was in the back room of the cycle shop where Wilbur and Orville first experimented with glider designs in the late 1890s.

•Carillon Historical Park is a 65-acre living history park, similar to Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Mich. Among its attractions is the original 1905 Wright Flyer III, the world's first practical airplane, which was restored under the direction of Orville Wright himself.

•The Wright "B" Flyer is a flyable replica of the world's first massed-produced airplane, manufactured in the Wright Company factory in Dayton in 1910-11. Built by a group of local aviation enthusiasts, the plane is housed at the small Dayton-Wright Brothers Airport in nearby Miamisburg. Adventurous visitors can plunk down $100 and get a ride on the Wright "B" as it roars above and around the airfield.

•Huffman Prairie Flying Field, an old cow pasture, was the site of countless test flights by the Wrights following their historic flights at Kitty Hawk, N.C., in 1903. The brothers refined the equipment used in Kitty Hawk's 59-second flight until they were able to launch a plane with a catapult and keep it aloft until it ran out of fuel almost 40 minutes later.

•Overlooking Huffman Prairie is the Wright Brothers Memorial. It was dedicated in 1940, on Orville's 69th birthday, and he was in attendance.

•Hawthorn Hill, the Wright family mansion, features many innovations, including a remote-control device for adjusting the basement furnace from upstairs and a toaster that could slice and brown bread.

•The final stop on the Aviation Trail is a quantum leap from the Wright Brothers' rickety flying machines. It's the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, located at nearby Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Fairborn. The world's oldest and largest military aviation museum, it contains more than 400 airships, dating from the early days of flying to the latest in rocketry and stealth technology, as well as dozens of exhibits and thousands of items on display.

Visitors who stop at six of the area's aviation sites and get "passports" stamped are rewarded with a plush "Wilbear Wright" teddy bear, dressed in a leather jacket and helmet, aviator goggles, and rakish white scarf.

Information: Dayton Montgomery County Convention & Visitors Bureau, 800-221-8235 or daytoncvb.com.

Lodging: Many of Dayton's most economical hotels are clustered just off of I-75, south of I-70 on the city's north edge. One good choice, with plenty of restaurants nearby, is the Courtyard Dayton North, 937-890-6112.

Mike Kelly is a retired Blade travel writer.

Contact him at: Kelly.writer@yahoo.com



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