“Inventing Flight,” Dayton’s Centennial Celebration

by Dr. Richard Stimson

in Celebration Activities

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?”

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