In 1917, Orville was back in the airplane business again in Dayton after selling the Wright Company in 1915. 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 1918, North field was leased to the Army and renamed McCook Field.
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 J1 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.
Experiencing engineering and production problems, the first plane didn’t reach France until August 1918. Three months later the war was over. The cooling system is one example of the problems experienced. The American version of the DH-4 replaced the British engine with a 400-hp American Liberty engine. The Liberty engine was half again as large as the British engine it replaced. The mismatch required a complete redesign of the cooling system.
The De Havilland plane indirectly still lives in Dayton through the name of “Patterson” in the name “Wright-Patterson” Air Force Base. Lt. Frank Patterson was killed in an accident flying the De Havilland plane in 1917 at the base. He was the nephew of John H. Patterson, founder of the NCR.
Another milestone occurred during 1918. Orville piloted an airplane for the last time. It was an old 1911 Wright biplane in a demonstration flight along side one of the Wright Company’s new De Havillands.
One of the more interesting projects that Kettering and Orville worked on was the aerial torpedo, pilotless gyroscopically controlled wooden biplane designed to deliver a 300-pound bomb. The bomb constituted the 10 feet long fuselage. A 2-cycle, 4-cylinder 40-horsepower Ford engine powered the plane that was launched from a track.
The vehicle was named the “Bug.” The number of engine revolutions was calculated by using target distance and forecasts of wind speed and distance. When the engine had turned the set number of times, a cam dropped into position, retracting bolts that held the wings to the fuselage. The wings then detached and the single bomb containing dynamite fell.
On one occasion the pilotless plane went out of control setting off a chase by 100 men in automobiles. The plane came down 21 miles from Dayton. When the chase party arrived, puzzled people at the site were searching for the pilot.
The Bug was demonstrated to the U.S. Army Air Corps in Dayton, Ohio, in 1918. Also, in September 1918 a somewhat larger manned version of the Bug, The “Messenger,” was test flown successfully. But WWI ended before they could be put into production.
The Bug received a patent and therefore was subject to public disclosure. The Germans in WWII obtained the plans and used them build the Fi 103 missile, better known as the V-1 “buzz bomb.”
Dayton-Wright stayed in business for a while longer designing and constructing experimental airplanes. One of planes they built was a racing plane capable of attaining 200 mph known as the RB. Built with some help from Orville, it was a monoplane with several innovations. It had a variable camber wing and a notable innovation, retractable landing gear.
The company entered the plane in the Gordon Bennett International Aviation Cup race in Paris on September 28, 1920. Unfortunately, during the race a control cable failed jamming the leading edge flap that prevented the plane from completing the race. (The RB today is on display at the Ford Museum near Detroit, Michigan.)
Another airplane involving Orville, was the O.W. Aerial Coupe. The O.W. initials represented Orville Wright. Built in 1918-19, The O.W. Aerial Coupe was an enclosed passenger plane and the last original design by Orville Wright. It carried three passengers and the pilot. The plane crashed and was totally destroyed in Indiana in 1924 after it developed engine trouble.
In 1920, Deeds and Kettering sold the company to General Motors (GM) for 100,000 shares of GM stock.
GM didn’t see any future profitability in producing airplanes after the war was over. They decided to close the Dayton Wright Airplane Company in the early 1920s. Major aircraft manufacturing never again returned to Dayton.