Wright Brothers – Celebration Activities

Articles relating to the celebration activities about the Centennial Anniversary.

It has been awhile since Dayton has celebrated her hometown heroes, the Wright Brothers. The last time was 1909, when their homecoming was celebrated with a parade down Main Street. School children in the bleachers were dressed in red, white or blue clothing to form an American flag.

Now they are making up for lost time in a big way by planning a multimillion-dollar flight centennial bash for the Wright Brothers in 2003. They established “Inventing Flight” in 1989 to plan the celebration. Madeline J. Iseli, Inventing Flight’s executive director, heads a team that is putting together a grand affair for Dayton’s most famous citizens that could cost up to $47 million in private and public funds.

Creating a New Park – Deeds Park

The celebration’s main concentration will last 18 days — July 3 through 20, 2003. The hub of the celebration will be at Deeds Point, a park situated on a 12 acre wedge of land facing downtown Dayton at the confluence of the Great Miami and Mad Rivers. Deeds Point and adjoining Kettering Field will serve as the gateway to all “Inventing Flight’s” activities spread throughout the Dayton area.

While at Deeds Point, visitors will be able to avail themselves of exhibits, stage shows, flight simulators and other family entertainment taking place in four large pavilions that celebrate the themes of invention, exploration, communications and imagination. There will be a children’s area full of colorful interactive activities and workshops. Along the river, there will be a nightly spectacular “Wings” show that will take place on floating barges, accompanied by orchestra concerts and fireworks.

A $170,000 stainless steel-and-aluminum version of the Flyer III was recently unveiled in downtown Dayton across from Deeds Point. It has a 40-foot wingspan and includes bronze statues of Wilbur flying the plane and Orville running alongside. The 5,000-pound sculpture is supported on a cantilevered steel base ten-feet above the ground at a 10-degree tilt in order to give the impression of the Flyer in flight.

While the hub of activity will be based at Deeds Point, the celebration radiates out to a series of satellite locations and citywide events, conventions and on-going exhibits happening during the same period. These include the Dayton Air Show, Carillon Historical Park’s Living Heritage Program, The Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park and the United States Air Force Museum.

Air Show

The Annual United States Air and Trade Show at Dayton International Airport will feature an unparalleled program of four days of flying exhibitions and ground display aircraft. The aircraft will represent each era, category and type of flying machine that have contributed to and shaped aviation progress during the first century of manned, powered flight.

Carillon Historical Park

The original 1905 Wright Flyer III will be the main attraction at the Carillon Historical Park. The plane just received a $365,000 restoration. The Wrights’ called this model their first practical airplane and it was the first that could fly circles and figure eight’s. Also on display will be the camera that took the famous picture of the first flight at Kill Devil Hills.

Disney-style parades, street performers, music and stage productions will add entertainment.

Aviation Heritage National Park

The Aviation Heritage National Park consists of The Wright Bicycle Shop, The Paul Laurence Dunbar Home, the Huffman Prairie Airfield and the Wright Memorial.

Wright Bicycle Shop

The Wright Bicycle shop, one of four they had in the area, and the Dunbar Home are located in the same neighborhood several blocks apart. Dunbar, the famous black poet, and Orville Wright were friends and were in the same class in high school. Their once thriving neighborhood has deteriorated over the years. Nearly $4.5 million is being spent recreating the way it was in 1900 by renovating a number of dilapidated buildings in the area.

A new visitor center is being established in the Hoover Block building, one of the renovated buildings. One of the Wrights’ printing shops occupied the second floor.

Just down the street from the bike shop is a vacant lot where the Wright family lived from 1871 to 1914. The city-owned lot has been vacant since 1936 when Henry Ford moved the house to his Greenfield Village Museum at Dearborn, Michigan. An archeological dig is currently underway at the original home site.

Huffman Prairie Airfield

The Huffman Prairie Airfield is where the Wrights continued their flight experiments after 1903. It is the world’s first airport and was used by the brothers to train the first aviators. Over 119 early flyers were taught to fly there. The most famous was “Hap” Arnold who later commanded the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II.

The first time a Wright Airplane has flown at Huffman since 1905 is planned, using a reproduction of the 1911 Wright B Flyer.

Wright Brothers Memorial

The Wright Brothers Memorial stands on Wright Brothers Hill overlooking the Huffman Prairie flying field. Erected in 1904, the shaft and base of the memorial are made of marble quarried near Kitty Hawk, N.C. A new visitor center is being constructed at this site.

Air Force Museum

Another key player in the 100th anniversary celebration will be the U.S. Air Force Museum. The museum is the largest and oldest military aviation museum in the world and is the new home of the National Aviation Hall of Fame. A replica of the first military airplane, the Wright Model A, was purchased by the U.S. Signal Corps in 1909 and is one of the important exhibits. The museum plans to finish a new, hanger-like 190,000-square foot gallery, in time for the celebration.

One of the unique events the museum will sponsor for the celebration is an attempt of a world record rally of 10 to 20 blimps.

The National Aviation Hall of Fame housed at the museum will host a reunion of all living inductees in an appropriately named “Heroes of Flight Homecoming.” Some 30 surviving inductees are expected to attend and be honored.

The Wrights’ Home

Hawthorn Hill, the Wright’s home beginning in 1914 until Orville’s death in 1948, located in the City of Oakwood outside of Dayton, will be open to the public four times during the next three years. The home is owned by the NCR Corporation and is rarely opened to the public.

The centennial celebration is expected to draw 3 million visitors. It is the largest affair that the Dayton community has ever orchestrated. They are working hard to make sure that Dayton’s place in aviation history is understood. The Wrights first flew at Kitty Hawk, but they conceived, researched, built and perfected their invention in Dayton.

Dayton’s dream is reflected in their motto: “What if for one spectacular year Dayton was the center of the universe?”

North Carolina and Ohio have been feuding over who deserves the credit for the first sustained, powered flight under control at Kitty Hawk, N.C. on December 17, 1903. The intensity of the debate has been fueled by the planned grand celebration by both states for the 100th anniversary of the first flight in 2003.

North Carolina Honors Famous Event

The commemorative quarters honoring North Carolina were released in March. It featured the famous picture taken by John Daniels of the first flight with the inscription, “First Flight.”

That was close to what North Carolina wanted, but not completely. They wanted the inscription to say, “First in Flight.” The phrase, “First Flight,” does not have the same meaning and impact. It is a more limited description depicting an event, rather than a motto.

There is an interesting sidelight to the North Carolina story. The First Flight design wasn’t everyone’s first choice in N.C. Some of the North Carolina panel members pushed hard to depict the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse as a better choice to represent the state’s image.

Wilbur Slighted

Ohio, whose commemorative quarter is due for release next April, submitted a design that also featured the Wright Flyer with the inscription, “Birthplace of Aviation.” The dual depiction of the Wright Flyer on both the states’ coins was part of the running debate over each state’s claim on the Wright Brothers.

The U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, a group that reviews designs of all commemorative coins, disapproved Ohio’s initial proposal and returned it recommending instead a picture of the state bird, a cardinal, perched on buckeye leaves.

Needless to say the people in Ohio were under-whelmed with that result. Ohio’s Governor Bob Taft submitted a counter proposal. The new design featured the Wright Flyer flying in the opposite direction of that depicted on the N.C. Quarter and an astronaut superimposed over an outline of Ohio. The generic astronaut is in recognition of two Ohio natives, Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, and John Glenn, the first American to orbit the earth. The recommended inscription was “Birthplace of Aviation.”

The mint approved the design with one word change. They added the word “Pioneers,” to the inscription. The new inscription reads “Birthplace of Aviation Pioneers.” This design is expected to be approved by U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, who is the final approval authority.

Not everyone in Ohio is happy with this result because Wilbur Wright was born in Millville, Indiana, not Ohio. Unfortunately, Wilbur’s role in inventing the airplane will be ignored.

So, neither state is completely happy, but both got much of what they wanted.

Historical Perspective

The first flight was the culmination of several years of research and experimentation. The research was primarily conducted in Dayton and the experimentation and the first flight took place at Kitty Hawk, N.C.

The Wrights’ research began four years before their first appearance at Kitty Hawk. Wilbur conceived and successfully tested the concept of wing warping to turn an airplane. He tested the concept by flying a specially rigged biplane kite with a five-foot wingspan in Dayton one year before the initial trip to the outer banks in 1900. The seventeen-foot glider they flew at Kitty Hawk in 1900 confirmed that wing warping worked.

The research to determine the proper camber of the wings to maximize lift was conducted in Dayton during 1901 in a wind tunnel of their design using 200 miniature airfoils of different shapes. Their design choice was confirmed in glider flights during their 1902 trip to Kitty Hawk.

Their one significant design change to the glider while at Kitty Hawk occurred during their 1902 trip. They changed the fixed double tail to a turnable single tail. This was the final piece in the puzzle to effect a smooth turning mechanism for the glider to enable flying under control. Having proved they could fly under control, the next task was to develop a means of propulsion.

The gas engine and the propeller were designed, manufactured and tested in Dayton. The components of the “Flyer” were constructed in Dayton for later assembly at Kitty Hawk. The assembled Flyer was successfully flown at Kitty Hawk on their second try.

Kitty Hawk provided more than wind. The villagers and the life saving crew on Kitty Hawk at the time were critical to the Wrights’ success. The brothers admired their independent spirit and hard work, which was like their own. The Kitty Hawkers were not only friendly to the brothers, they provided help in hauling the glider up and down the dunes along with other activities. The brothers would fly a flag when they were ready to fly, and help would arrive.

John Daniels, a member of the life saving crew, took the now famous picture of the first flight that appears on the N.C. commemorative coin.

Bill Tate’s wife allowed the Wrights to use her sewing machine to sew the sateen wing covering. Bill was instrumental in convincing the Wrights to come to Kitty Hawk.

Except for occasional storms and swarms of mosquitoes, the brothers enjoyed their “vacation” stay on the island.

Dunbar Was Wright Brothers’ Friend

The library at Wright State is named in honor of Paul Laurence Dunbar. Dunbar was the first African-American to gain national eminence as a poet. Dunbar was a friend of the Wrights and a high school classmate of Orville.

During his short lifetime, he wrote 600 poems, 12 books, 5 novels, and 4 volumes of short poetry, as well as hundreds of newspaper articles and lyrics for musicals. His “Tuskegee Song” is the alma mater of Tuskegee Institute.

Dunbar’s early writings were published on Orville’s printing press.

Dunbar died of tuberculosis in 1906 at the young age of 33. His home today is part of the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park and is located within walking distance of the Wrights’ home.

The Wright State University campus is located adjacent to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. The Wright Brothers memorial is located close by. The memorial overlooks Huffman Field where the Wrights perfected their machines in 1904 and 1905.

The Wright Brothers’ Centennial Celebration year (2003) is drawing near. The countdown began with the 98th Anniversary celebration held at the Wright Brothers’ Memorial, Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina on December 17, 2001. I was there serving as a park service volunteer. It was a beautiful day with over 400 onlookers in attendance.

The Wright Brothers’ centennial celebration at Kitty Hawk is struggling to overcome a late start in planning and a shortage of funds. The North Carolina First Flight Centennial Commission (FFCC), the state agency overseeing North Carolina’s celebration of the first flight at Kitty Hawk, has contributed to the problem.

The FFCC has been slow in developing detailed, comprehensive planning and has been reluctant to delegate responsibility, authority and provide funding for planning and execution of the event of the century. The event will take place in Dare County, North Carolina at the Wright Brothers’ National Memorial.

Dare County Ill Prepared

The U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission located in Washington, D.C. has announced a yearlong celebration extending overseas and culminating in Dare County, the location of the first flight on December 17, 2003. Unfortunately, Dare County is ill prepared and under funded for the event with only one year remaining before the yearlong celebration begins.

Dare County finds themselves in this crisis situation through no fault of their own. Until just recently, they have been constrained by the FFCC in performing the required necessary planning. At a rancorous meeting of the FFCC on December 17, 2001, Sherry Rollason, Mayor of the town of Kill Devil Hills where the Wright Memorial is located, characterized the issue by proclaiming that the FFCC hasn’t made any progress since 1994. “We need help.”

Some help did come after tense debate at the meeting in the form of a resolution that gives Dare County an endorsement of a calendar of events developed and endorsed by the interconnected towns of Kill Devil Hills, Kitty Hawk, Nags Head, Manteo and Southern Shores.

The vote of the commission members was ten in favor and three against the motion, with some ten members abstaining. The lukewarm result, while approving the resolution, lacked the unanimous support that it should have had to give Dare County the positive support they need to overcome the challenge ahead of them.

It is particularly disappointing that one of those who voted against the motion is the state director of the NC Department of Cultural Resources, who has overall responsibility for the state’s centennial celebration. The FFCC reports to this department.

Insufficient Funds

The approved resolution did not come with any funds or even a proposed budget for Dare County to work with. This leaves Dare County at a severe handicap in developing their detailed implementation plans.

The money problem will not be easily solved. The State of NC has an overall budget deficit which leaves unsettled how many dollars will be allocated to the FFCC to support celebration activities. Further compounding the problem is the manner in which the commission plans to allocate the limited amount of money that they do have.

The commission views their task as one of supporting celebration activities around the whole state. FFCC Co-Chairman, Tom Lambeth, explained at the meeting that 99% of the board’s funding and the population it serves are from outside Dare County.

It is noted here that all of the Wright Brothers’ activities in North Carolina were confined to Dare County. One could argue, that if there is limited funding, the focus of funding should be where the activities of the Wrights actually occurred.

Geneva Perry, granddaughter of Elijah Baum who welcomed Wilbur when he first arrived at Kitty Hawk, did open the issue. She retorted that we don’t expect all the efforts of the commission to be here but we need to equally share in the resources. The main event is going to be here and if it is not what it could and should be visitors are going to go away thinking negatively about our area. “We will bear the brunt of it.”

In an attempt to calm the expected rising storm of criticism, prior to the meeting, Governor Mike Easley appointed Ken Mann of the First Flight Society as co-chairman of the FFCC. The First Flight Society, a private organization, has traditionally sponsored the annual first flight celebration at the Wright Memorial.

Whatever good feeling was created by the appointment didn’t last long. During a discussion of the relevance of some of the past expenditures of the FFCC, Mann’s critical comments so unsettled co-chair Lambeth that he threw his pen on the conference table in frustration.

Preliminary Plans

The preliminary plans for the the week of December 13-16, 2003 at the Wright Memorial are to hold a variety of air shows, static ground displays, and educational programs, as well as a host of exhibits. A 20,000 square foot pavilion on parkland to house the displays and exhibits is on the drawing board to be available by April 2003.

Another group associated with the FFCC known as the First Flight Foundation has been charged with obtaining the funding for the pavilion and other site improvements. They have yet to neither raise the funds nor do they have engineering plans and cost estimates completed for the pavilion. They claim to have some interested sponsors.

Time is drawing short for raising significant funds. They have missed the 2002 budget cycle for charitable contributions for most big companies. Many of the target companies may have already committed their funds to other locations such as the Wright celebration in Dayton. And, it is not a good time to be soliciting for funds, as the aerospace industry and airlines are in a recession.

Fortunately, one big event planned for the celebration at the Wright Brothers’ National Memorial park is funded and on schedule. That is the re-enactment of the Wright Brothers’ historic flight at 10:35 a.m. on December 17th, the time of the first flight.

Dare County is planning a yearlong series of events beginning with torch lighting and  countdown clock beginning January 2002. There is also the possibility of the creation of a centennial park off the site of the Wright Memorial to handle overflow by providing entertainment, additional exhibits and county exposition.

National Park Service

The Park Service handed out a proposed schedule of events at the FFCC meeting, but it contained little detail. The park ranger who had been temporarily detailed from another park site to develop the plan has left because the funding ran out. The job has been given to an existing staff member, but the symbolism of this episode

demonstrates a lack of urgency on the part of the National Park Service at a time where there is a once in a life time opportunity to produce a world-class celebration.

The roof of the Wright memorial exhibition building leaks and must be replaced. The job is behind schedule and had not begun as of December 2001. The repairs will necessitate the closing of the building during most of 2002 and may even stretch into 2003.

This fiasco began a number of years ago when the park service spent near $200,000 on architectural designs for a much needed new center, then let them drop because the current obsolete building was considered a historic building worth preserving.

The window of opportunity is rapidly closing for promoting the celebration to national convention and tour groups. They need to know about times, places and prices.

Other Celebrations

Other major celebrations in North Carolina are planned for Lumberton and Fayetteville in May 2003 Nationally, an Aviation World’s Fair 2003 is planned at the Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport. The Society of Experimental Test Pilots is planning an event for Los Angeles in September 2003.

It now appears that the premier celebration will be in Dayton in July. Dayton’s groups have worked on their plans since 1989. They have raised over half of the $40 million they set as a goal. Madeline Iseli, executive director for the Inventing Flight says the Dayton is clearly the forerunner in terms of preparedness for the centennial.