First Practical Airplane, Part 2

by Dr. Richard Stimson

in Dayton Celebration Events

First Practical Airplane, Part 2

Centennial of Flight

A momentous event in the history of the airplane occurred 100 years ago on October 5, 1905. It was the first flight of the first practical airplane piloted by Orville Wright over Huffman Prairie, a cow pasture in Dayton, Ohio

On that occasion Wilbur flew thirty circles over the field, landing only when fuel was exhausted. He had flown the 30 circles in more than 39 minutes, exceeding the sum of all 109 flights made in 1903 and 1904. His average speed was 38-mph over the 24 miles he flew. It was the 48th flight and second to last flight of 1905.

I had the pleasure to narrate the reenactment of the flight by a replica 1905 Flyer III for radio station WCRS of Akron, Ohio.

A fog covered Huffman Prairie as I arrived early in the morning. The sun was just making its appearance. It was a beautiful sight of the pristine prairie. It remains just as it was when Orville and Wilbur flew there.

In the picture Bob Holland and David Binkley of WCRS, are preparing for the flight along with me on the left.

After the fog had lifted around 9:15 a.m., Mark Dusenberry flew his replica twice in a low straight-line flight for about 1,200-ft in 25-seconds after being catapulted into the air and make a graceful soft landing after each flight.

He was preparing to make a third flight, the engine was running when the weight hung up in the derrick when it dropped a short distance, aborting the attempt.

I was told that two days earlier Dusenberry flew a circle at treetop height and was sternly told by authorities not to do that again on the 5th.

I estimate several hundred people were in attendance. It could have been much a much higher number but the publicity was low key. I was told that the Air Force didn’t want a big crowd.

Dr. Tom Crouch, Senior Curator of the National Air and Space Museum and native Daytonian, urged the crowd to enjoy the prairie in the same manner he does.

More of his comments:

“Come when the wind is here, when the wind is blowing through the trees.”

“Contemplate what events occurred here and what flight has meant to the world. That is the best way we can honor Orville and Wilbur Wright.”

“The really wonderful thing about Huffman Prairie is that it’s not just a little historic patch of earth. It’s surrounded by this enormous complex that’s dedicated to the advancement of the Technology to which Wilbur and Orville gave birth.”

“The Wright brothers more famous powered flights of 1903 in North Carolina were important, but only another step in their research. The real end of the process of invention occurred here in Dayton in 1905.”

He noted that at one time there were plans to build a monument to the Wrights in the middle of the Prairie. We are fortunate that they changed their minds and built the monument on a hill some distance away leaving the prairie unspoiled.

Note: Huffman Prairie is a pristine prairie that remains exactly as it was 100 years ago, because it is part of a flood plain created by the construction of Huffman Dam after the great flood of 1913 that inundated Dayton. Both Katharine and Orville had visited the prairie while they were school children on biology field trips.

Colonel Andrew K. Weaver, 88th Air Force Wing Commander a Wright Patterson Air Force Base (WPAFB) noted that the Wright brothers accomplishments continue to inspire.

“They had the ability to surmount the obstacles and to actually achieve results.”

“America’s leadership in Aviation began here with Orville and Wilbur and it continues here at WPAFB.”

Other speakers noted that the 105 Flyer III marked the beginning of a century of aviation progress, much of it developed on WPAFB which now surrounds the prairie.

Note: Orville was consulted in the selection of the location of WPAFB. The first Army airfield was established in 1917.

Among the attendees were members of the Wright family, Amanda Wright-Lane and Steven Wright, great-grand niece and nephew.

Two French delegations also attended. One was from Le Mans, where Wilbur’s first public flights made the Wright brothers famous, and Pau, where Wilbur set up the World’s first flying school.

Thierry Tissandier, son of French aviation pioneer Paul Tissandier, was with the delegation. The elder Tissandier was taught to fly by Wilbur,

Centennial celebrations in France are planned at Le Mans and Pau in 2008 and 2009 respectively.

Betty J. Darst, Dayton Dramatist and Historian, invited the French attendees to the celebration and organized a several day symposium around the centennial.

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