Dayton Aviation Planners Think Big

by Dr. Richard Stimson

in Honoring the Wright Brothers

The nonprofit Aviation Heritage Foundation has a vision for Dayton to boast their aviation heritage that would cost $500 million over the next 15 to 20 years. The center piece of a 10 point grand design is a Aviation Theme park that would cost $330 million and attract 6 to 7 million visitors.

It comes at the right time. Delphi Corporation, which has five plants in Dayton employing some 5,700 employees, is in bankruptcy and just announced they plan on closing four of the five plants threatening 5,500 jobs.

Here some of the elements of the still evolving plan:

1: An aviation heritage icon on the scale of the Gateway Arch in St Louis to brand the region. One group already has a plan to build a larger-than-life replica of the Wright Flyer near the interchange of two main Interstates, 70 and 75, which are located near Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, the Air Force Museum and Huffman Prairie. There are some 220,000 motorists that flow through this intersection each day.

The replica Flyer would be made of polished stainless steel and weigh 80,000 pounds with a 125-foot wingspan. It will sit on a 220 foot column and be visible from mile away. One Montgomery County commissioner says, “It will catch the eye of the world and really shows this is the home of the Wright brothers.”

Location, size and cost are still being debated. The design is a product of University students

2: Sound and light show. Dayton already has built such a facility in downtown Dayton along the Miami River.

3: Air and Space theme park. This would be a Disney-like theme park costing about $300 million. It would feature virtual reality flight simulators and other attractions that would blend fun with education. Most of the investors would come from outside the region.

4: Wright Factory Delphi currently owns the approximately one-acre site that contains the original Wright factory buildings. This is one of the facilities that Delphi has on its list to close.

The Wrights built the two factory buildings occupying 67-acres in 1910 to build their airplanes. The buildings are still in use as factory buildings by Delphi. It is the nation’s first factory to mass-produce airplanes. These buildings are well maintained and could be turned into replica factories showing Wright airplanes in various stages of construction.

5: Open Hawthorne Hill to the public, Orville and Katharine’s home in Oakwood. This may be one of the most difficult to implement. The home is owned by NCR and the up-scale neighborhood around the home doesn’t want buses full of tourists.

6: Recreational vehicle park for the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.

7: WACO Museum and Aviation Learning Center in Troy, Ohio. Make this a premier youth camp focused on aviation.

8: Wright Flyer replica flights on Huffman Prairie. These flights take place now but need better and closer facilities to house the Flyer.

Connect the Wright Memorial park to Huffman Prairie by a new road and bridge over highway 444.

9: A rail trolley connecting key aviation sites. The rail trolley would simulate the Dayton-Springfield-Urbana railroad that Orville and Wilbur rode from their home in downtown Dayton to Huffman Prairie.

10: Reorient the Dayton Air Show to showcase Dayton’s role in aviation.

Anthony Sculimbrene, the Aviation Heritage Foundation’s Director, states that the plan will have two parts – a five year plan aimed at modestly increasing tourism by about 50%, and a “grand design” for a ten fold increase over 15 to 20 years.

He emphatically says, “We are going to make Dayton the global center of aviation heritage.”

The Dayton Development Coalition spokesman Evan Scott adds, “We don’t strive for a small vision.”

References: Dayton Daily News, March 19, 2006; Dayton Business Daily, Jan. 15, 2006

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