Wright Brothers – Honoring the Wright Brothers

Articles relating to the honoring of the Wright Brothers.

At the dedication of the new Wright Field in 1927, Brig.-General William E. Gillmore, Chief of the Materiel Division, spoke about what Wright Field will mean to the science and progress of the Nation’s Aviation Program.

The dedication of Wright Field provided the United States with the world’s Largest Aviation Plant.

Here is what he said (with some editing):

A Quarter of a century ago, Dayton saw the beginning of a new engineering industry. I speak of that which the Wright brothers engaged in as a sideline in their bicycle repair shop. To such vast proportions has that industry grown in this short span, that today it is regarded as a major arm of national defense by all civilized nations of the world.

The development of this industry was hastened through its early and anemic stages by the Great War and after the war it could not be allowed to lag. The Army’s course lay very clear ahead in that respect. To take part in, encourage, and aid in every phase of the process of flight was sheer duty to nation.

Reservoir of Science

Under this peacetime program, McCook Field and Wright Field, to which the McCook Field organization has been transferred, became the clearinghouse between manufacturer and the Army Air Corps. It interprets its needs in specifications and drawings of articles to be built, testing the products when completed, and refusing them if they did not come up to specifications.

If they did and still not prove all that was needed, “we study the weaknesses, pooling engineering experience, and suggestions with the manufacturer with hope of obtaining better functioning or more useful products.” In many instances it was breaking virgin ground, trying for equipment never used before.

Because of the large volume of testing carried on by the Materiel Division at McCook and Wright Fields through the years — static and dynamic testing of airplane structures, dynamometer testing of engines, whirl testing of propellers, precision testing of instruments, strength testing of every raw material used in connection with flight, and finally through flight testing of every airplane brought to the hangers — Wright Field has become a great reservoir of scientific aviation data.

These data have been open to the aviation public and have been drawn upon by the industry in every step of its forward progress with the exception of a few military secrets.

Because of this vast experience with and complete facilities for testing, Wright Field has been able to discover new building methods and materials. It has freely disseminated this knowledge, both for the purpose of obtaining satisfactory products for Air Corps use and also for simplifying the problems of design for the commercial builder.

Because of the great amount of all types of flying done by Air Corps pilots and because of the facilities for development at Wright Field, new problems of flight, as well as things needed for pilot and plane have been brought early for solving to the notice of technicians and engineers in charge of such work at Wright Field.

It was in answer to such problems that the idea of the earth induction compass, the radio beacon, night flying equipment, the modern air-cooled aviation engines, the airplane parachute, and other items too numerous to mention, had their inception in the organization now at Wright Field.

Reference: Aviation Progress, NCR, October 8, 1927.

Frank Coffyn was one of the early members of the Wright Exhibition team. Orville and Wilbur formed the team in 1910 against their better judgment as one of the few available ways to make money building and flying airplanes.

Coffyn was an astute observer of the Wright brothers, friend of General Benjamin Foulois and an enthusiastic pilot who took many risks during his flying days including being the first to fly under the Brooklyn Bridge.

Frank was a wealthy young New Yorker; his father was the vice president of the Phoenix National Bank of New York. One of his father’s friends, Andrew Freedman, was a director of the bank and also a director for the newly formed Wright Company. Frank wanted to learn to fly so he took advantage of Freedman’s association with the Wrights and boldly asked Freedman to recommend him to the Wrights for attendance at their flight school.

Frank got his wish when Wilbur was visiting Freedman in his New York office. Freedman introduced Wilbur to Frank and got to shake his hand.

Wilbur was courteous but noncommittal. He told Frank to visit Dayton and “we will see how we like each other.”

Frank said later that he had no idea what Wilbur looked like, but was disappointed at first. He had imagined him looking like a hero built on godlike lines. Instead he found a tall, thin, middle-aged modest man with diffident manners who Instead of enunciating startling truths, was more ready to listen than to talk.

Frank arrived in Dayton on May 10, 1910. He was surprised to find the people of Dayton only barely tolerant of the Wright brothers. They seemed to think that the Wrights were just two hard-working local boys who had given up a good bicycle business to fool around with a fad that wouldn’t last.

The next day Frank was directed to take the streetcar to Simms Station at Huffman Prairie, some eight miles away. He was surprised to find Orville seated across from him on the same trolley. Frank noted that Orville was a quiet-looking man of around 40 years old whose eyes reminded him of Wilbur.

Frank introduced himself; “You are Orville Wright? I’m Frank Coffyn, and you’re going to teach me to fly.”

Orville smiled and said, “I like enthusiasm, you’ll need it.”

Orville was responsible for selecting and teaching members of the Wright Exhibition team. Wilbur was busy with managing the Wright Co. and handling the patent suits they were pursuing. He flew as a pilot for the last time on May 21.

Other members of the team were Walter Brookins, Archie Hoxsey, Ralph Johnstone and Al Welch. Brookins, 21, was the youngest and the Wrights’ first pupil. The Wrights had known him from childhood.

The student pilots were assigned work to do other than flying. Frank’s first job was cleaning a magneto and fixing leaks in some water pumps. He then had to clean up the mess on the field that the cows had left and to drag out tufts of coarse prairie grass.

His first chance to fly was on May 19th. He climbed in beside Orville and started down the monorail with Johnston holding the wing. But before they lifted off they ran into trouble when one wing got too low, so Orville shut off the engine.

As Frank was helping to push the plane back to the starting point he felt “vaguely troubled” by the bad start.

Orville was not troubled. The Wrights were not superstitious. They carried no mascots for good luck and knew of no unlucky days. The only day they refused to fly was on Sunday and that was because of religious belief.

Orville decided not to fly again that day because it was getting late. The next day it rained.

On 8:40 on May 21st they finally got off the ground and flew for a little over 12 minutes. Later in the day they flew for another 10 minutes.

Frank had a great time. He was just past 30 years old but found himself an enthusiastic boy again. He was surprised by the “gliding smoothness of the motion” and enjoyed his first sight of the earth from the air. They landed easily on skids.

Orville said little during the flight; the Wrights were not conversationalists.

The only complaint Frank had was that his hands had swollen painfully. Orville told him that he was gripping the controls too hard.

I believe the airplane they flew that day was a transition model sometimes referred to as a Wright Model A. The Model A had a fixed (later movable) horizontal stabilizer applied to the tail of the 1909 machine. The Wright Model B was brought out early in July 1910 and replaced the Model A. It eliminated the front elevator and wheels were attached to the skids. A single wing warping control lever was mounted between the seats on both models so that the pilot and the student could share it. (See photo of Model A at left)

Orville told Frank that he was ready for his first solo flight after 2 1/2 hours of flight training. It was not to be flown at Huffman Prairie, however, but during the Wright Exhibition team’s first show to be held in Indianapolis where the 500-mile automobile races are held.

One might think that this was a bit risky, but the Wrights believed in themselves, their airplanes and their students. Frank commenting on the situation said, “They didn’t fuss around and make one nervous; they assumed I would make good.”

Frank nearly did fail. He took off on a nice June day and proceeded to follow the racetrack. The plan was to make straightforward laps around the track.

Before he completed his first lap he felt a violent pain in his left eye and both eyes began to tear profusely. Frank thought he was going blind and would crash. Although in pain and about to crash, his main worry was he was going to let the Wrights down.

By shaking his head he managed to see some, although it was like looking through a mist. It was enough to enable him to land without incident.

Wilbur ran over and asked him what was wrong. His voice was anxious, but not scolding. Frank answered it was his eyes while thinking his flying career was over.

He removed his goggles and to his surprise there was a spider on the left lens. The spider must have crawled inside while the goggles were hanging on the wall of the flying shed.

Frank went on to fly successfully every day of the exhibition, as did the other members of the team.

Orville had flown over 250 flights in 1910 training his students, 100 of the flights were in the last three weeks of May.

More to come on Frank Coffyn in future articles.

Reference: “Flying with the Wrights,” by Frank T. Coffyn, World’s Work Magazine, Dec. 1929-Jan. 1930.

The Oakwood Planning Commission has turned down the request by the Wright Family Foundation, owner of Hawthorn Hill, to open the Wrights’ home to limited public tours.

Stephen Wright, Wright brothers descendant, Oakwood resident, and one of the foundation’s trustees, said that the negative decision has been appealed to the Oakwood City Council.

The proposed tour protocol is very modest. Public tours would be limited to just two a day two days a week between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. This is a reduction to the original proposal of four days a week. The other requirements are:

The tours would begin from Carillon Park in Dayton. A specially designated van would ferry no more than 16 visitors to Hawthorn Hill.

No special exemption would be made for opening the home for visits from area schools. An exemption to this policy would be made for Oakwood High School. I am a graduate of the school and I am fortunate to have been able to visit the home several times.

There would be no sales from the home including souvenirs or food.

Lastly, visitors would be able to take photographs of the home’s exterior, limited to 15 people at a time and remaining within 25 feet of the property line.

The City of Oakwood is home to Hawthorne Hill. It is a lovely mansion situated on a high hill and was designed by the Wright brothers. Orville lived there for 34 years until he died in 1948. Wilbur died in 1912 before the house was completed and never lived there. The house is designated a National Historic Landmark.

The Wrights bought the land in 1911 or 1912. It was the site of Oakwood’s first water tower. They named the hill Hawthorn Hill after the name of their boyhood home on Hawthorne St. and also in honor of the prickly-needled Hawthorn tree that once stood in the middle of Huffman Prairie and the Hawthorn trees on their new Oakwood property.

In addition to Orville, his sister Katharine and his father, Bishop Wright moved into the house in 1914. Their old home in Dayton had been badly damaged by the great Dayton flood of 1913.

Many famous people visited Orville while he lived in the mansion including Charles Lindbergh, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, General Hap Arnold, General Billy Mitchell, Admiral Richard Byrd, Henry Ford, and Carl Sandburg. Ivonette Wright Miller, Orville’s niece, was married there with about 60 guests in attendance.

One of the unique things about the house is that Orville designed many of the mechanical features of the house, many of them while he lived there. The National Park Service declared the house a national landmark in 1991.

Upon Orville’s death the house was offered for sale to the public. There was a proposal for the City of Oakwood to buy the house. The Oakwood City Council scotched the idea because they would have to propose a bond issue to raise the money. I guess they weren’t too concerned about how the mansion would be used in those days.

The NCR stepped up and bought the house for $75,000 fearing that it might fall into the wrong hands. Also Orville was a good friend of many top executives of NCR including John Patterson, Edward Deeds and Charles Kettering. NCR used it as a corporate retreat and VIP guesthouse.

The most important thing is that NCR has kept the house in pristine condition. Many other Dayton buildings associated with the Wrights have either been moved out of Dayton, such as their boyhood home and their last bicycle shop. Others no longer exist, such as Orville’s laboratory that was torn down to be replaced by a gas station.

The NCR donated the house to the Wright Family Foundation on August 18th, 2006, the day before Orville’s birthday. Amanda Wright Lane, great-grand niece and Stephen Wright, great-grand nephew, are trustees of the foundation. They are related to Orville and Wilbur by blood and marriage. NCR stipulated that the foundation make an effort to transfer ownership to the National Park Service. The foundation has started the process to do just that but it may take a few years to accomplish the transfer.

What follows may be a partial explanation of some of Oakwood resident’s negative attitude towards opening Hawthorn Hill to the public.

Oakwood is a small city of less than 3 square miles geographically surrounded by the cities of Dayton and Kettering. Homes range in price from about $300,000 to nearly $1 million. It has no industry. Population is around 9,000 residents.

Oakwood is the product of John Patterson, founder and president of NCR. Patterson envisioned Oakwood as a bedroom of Dayton as it is today. His influence led to generous lot sizes and academic excellence in the school system. The school system is still outstanding and regularly sends most of its high school graduates to college.

The early city received a jump-start when Patterson encouraged his executives and later his foreman to move to the new village.

The city’s fixed area is comfortable and livable. The median family income is around $88,000. The absence of industry keeps the city clean. Although most of the housing is older and the tax rate is high, but the excellent schools draw people to the city.

A little known fact is that a secret research facility in Oakwood during WW II produced polonium that made the first atomic bomb possible.

Many residents have lived in Oakwood for many years. They tend to be conservative in philosophy.

Some close neighbors to the mansion are against the proposal. Here is an example: “All I can think of are tacky tourists, feet over running, tacky rubber flip flops, with their slurpees, big gulps, mistys, and frostys tearing my darling Oakwood. It breaks my heart to see it become so pedestrian.”

Not all Oakwood people are against it: “It sounds like the Wright Foundation has taken every possible step to insure these tours are handled in the proper way. Hawthorn Hill is a true treasure that should be viewed by the public.”

Many people in Oakwood are embarrassed by, and cringing at, what has occurred. They have been working behind the scenes to ensure that the city council reverses the planning commission’s decision.

The Dayton Daily News in an editorial wrote: “Oakwood’s elected officials need to do the right thing. Overruling the planning commission doesn’t require courage, just common sense.”

Latest news: The Oakwood City Council on July 2nd voted to open the Wright home for public tours. The vote was unanimous with one abstention. No date was announced for when the tours would start.

Later news: Conducted tours of Hawthorn Hill are to begin on Saturday, Sept. 1, with 45-minute tours planned to follow on Wednesdays and Saturdays thereafter. Dayton History. a historical preservation organization based in Dayton’s Carillon Historical Park, will sell tickets for the tours and conduct them.

There is a maximum of 14 visitors that can be handled at a time. They will be taken by van at 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. from Carillon Park to Hawthorn Hill and back. The tours will be conducted throughout the year.

References: Dayton Daily News; Oakwood: The Far Hills by Bruce Ronald and Virginia Ronald.

Steady winds…..Velvet sands

Determined Brothers…..Willing hands

Gifted men…..Self-taught minds.

By years of toil and eager thirst,

That from your dunes that they be first

To launch a plane by man’s own might

And ride your winds in motored flight.

From Kitty Hawk the Wrights did rise

To throttle time…..Explore the skies.

Bring nations from a distant berth

With hopes of Peace upon the earth,

That by their flight this Hallowed Date

May ground forever War and Hate

And man will strive as they once stood

To bring the World to Brotherhood.

This poem appeared on the program for the 61st anniversary of the first flight held at the Wright Brothers National Memorial on Thursday December 17, 1964.

Howerton Gowen of Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina, wrote it. Mr. Gowen owned an oil and chemical business for many years.

Mr. Thomas E. Myrick of Roanoke Rapids brought the poem to my attention.

The Kill Devil Memorial Hills Association, The National Park Service, The National Aeronautic Association and The Air Force Association sponsored the event in 1964.

The Kill Devil Hills Association was organized formally in 1927 to preserve and honor the original site of the Wright brothers’ flights of December 17, 1903.

In 1966, the association was rekindled as the First Flight Society. The society supports the Park Service including the annual ceremony honoring the Wright brothers held at the park on December 17th.

The citizens of Dayton on October 12, 1927 donated a large tract of land for the site of the new Wright Field. The new Wright Field would house facilities for carrying on and expanding the experimental and research work of the Air Corps at McCook Field in Dayton.

This is the story behind this event beginning with the occasion of Orville Wright returning to the airplane business.

In 1917, Orville was back in the airplane business again in Dayton. This time he didn’t own the company named Dayton-Wright Airplane Company, but was a technical advisor. Six Dayton businessmen formed the new company. The president of the company was Edward Deeds, a vice-president and later president of the NCR Company. The vice-president was Charles Kettering, the noted inventor. Both were good friends of Orville.

A new factory was built at Moraine City, just south of Dayton. In addition, a flying school was formed and land procured just north of downtown Dayton and named North Field. In 1917, North field was leased to the Army and renamed McCook Field. Orville was instrumental in selecting the location.

The new investors hoped to make Dayton the manufacturing center of the United States using modern automobile production techniques to mass produce airplanes.

Fortuitously, the United States declared war on Germany five days before the new company was incorporated. Subsequently, the Dayton-Wright Company received a contract to deliver 4,000 modified British De Havilland DH-4 combat planes and 400 J-1 trainers.

The DH-4 was a 2-bay airplane with a 42-1/2 foot wing span. Its fuselage was about 30 feet long. It was armed with two Lewis guns in the rear cockpit, and one or two Marlin forward firing guns.

Following the world war the government began to figure seriously on abandonment of the McCook experimental field, where so much of useful aviation activity had been carried out during the conflict. The Miami River surrounded McCook field on one side and city of Dayton housing, the other. It could not be enlarged. The Air Staff had realized for some time that McCook Field’s physical facilities were inadequate to handle all of the work involved in the Army aviation research and procurement programs.

The search for a permanent home had begun before the end of World War I. Langley Field in Virginia was frequently mentioned as a likely site. After the war, cities across the country submitted competing proposals to the Army, offering land and facilities to house engineering activities. Dayton was faced with the prospect of losing McCook’s activities to another location.

John H. Patterson, founder and president of the National Cash Register Co (NCR), vowed to keep Army aviation in Dayton and began a local campaign to raise money to purchase land large enough for a new field. The land would then be donated to the U. S. Army with the understanding that it would become home of the Engineering Division. Orville was consulted on the selection of the this location.

Mr. Patterson died in 1922 before his plan could be carried out.

Fortunately, his son, Frederick B. Patterson, inherited both his father’s position at NCR as well as his interest in keeping Army aviation research and development activities in Dayton. In 1922, Frederick Patterson organized the Dayton Air Service Committee, a coalition of prominent Daytonians and businessmen dedicated to raising the money necessary to purchase land for the Air Service.

Calling on the citizenry of Dayton, Frederick B. Patterson laid plans for a campaign, which had in mind the acquirement of 5,000 acres of land near Dayton, to be presented to the government free of charge. The land included the existing Wilbur Wright Field that was leased by the Air Service. It also included the Wright brothers’ flying field on Huffman Prairie.

The campaign lasted two days and resulted in subscriptions totally $425,000. With this money farms were bought and land secured and accepted by the United States government. The new facility was named Wright Field in honor of the Wright brothers.

President Coolidge himself thanked President Patterson and the Dayton committee for the patriotic endeavors. Some 600 people and businesses contributed to the fund.

The dedication of the Wright Field, which was held on October 12, 1927, is a monument to the perseverance, foresight and patriotism of father and son. Photograph shows Orville Wright and Secretary of War Dwight F. Davis at the dedication

The present Wright Field occupies this land and is a fitting testimonial to the fine service rendered to the government by Dayton citizens.

The dedication ceremony was a grand occasion attended by Orville Wright and numerous military and political dignitaries. The crowd was thrilled with parachute jumps and flight demonstrations by McCook Field test pilots, including Lt. James “JImmy” Doolittle.