Dayton has the Wright stuff


Garrison Hilliard

Dayton has the Wright stuff

You don't have to be an aviation buff or an engineering geek to be amazed by the
accomplishments of Orville and Wilbur Wright. And you don't have to travel a
great distance to enjoy the experience.

Dayton is so steeped in aviation history, you could spend an entire day visiting
historical sites and still not get to them all.

The Aviation Trail will help. This self-guided tour of 47 sites tells the story
of man's conquest of the air. The trail begins at the Aviation Trail Visitor
Center where you'll receive a brochure and map to other sites.

At the center, watch a short movie, then wander past displays that show the
concepts of aviation success, such as wind warping, hip cradling and wind
tunnels. Many of the center's exhibits are interactive. Test the toy helicopter
that sparked the Wright boys' fascination with flight. See samples of the weekly
newspaper that Orville first wrote, printed and published in 1889 at age 17.

Next door at the Wright Cycle Co., see where, three years later, the brothers
capitalized on the country's bicycle craze. In this red brick building they
manufactured and sold a complete line of bikes, including the "Gentleman's Van
Cleve" for $38-$47.

The most awe-inspiring sites are east of Dayton, near the WrightPatterson Air
Force Base. The Wright Memorial is a tree-filled park with a monument
commemorating the brothers' courage, perseverance and achievements. A photo of
the original dedication ceremony in 1940 includes Orville Wright, who celebrated
his 69th birthday that same day. (Wilbur died of typhoid fever in 1912.) Outdoor
displays point to Wright Field and Patterson Field, nearby landmarks where
aviation history unfolded.

Two miles away is Huffman Prairie Flying Field, a rugged farm pasture where the
brothers solved complex problems of controlling a machine in powered flight. At
Kitty Hawk, N.C., their longest flight was 59 seconds in a straight line. But it
was at Huffman Field where they learned to turn, bank, launch and land. The
first flight in a complete circle took place here.

Stand quietly, watch and listen. It is impossible to miss the significance of
what you'll see and hear: the distant roar of a jet flying overhead; streams of
white smoke criss-crossing the sky; the hum of a smaller plane heading to a
nearby airstrip.

A 30-minute walking tour at the field leads you to simple exhibits that explain
what the brothers accomplished here. A favorite is a vintage photo of this
84-acre pasture, crowded with cattle, a plane just off the ground in the

Most sites along the Aviation Trail, including those mentioned above, are free.