Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Orville and Wilber Wright in Dayton

There are five sites in Dayton where one may follow the path of the Wright brothers to the invention of the airplane. Since John and I are already on the Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Monday we stopped at the Hoffman Prairie Flying Field located on base. Hoffman field in the late 1890s was flat open pasture land.. A Dayton banker, Torrence Huffman, allowed the Wright brothers to use that field for their flying experiments. His only requirement was that they keep his cows out of harm's way while flying their experiments.Trolleys from Dayton stopped at a small depot called Sims Station, located near the field. The depot allowed the Wright brothers to transport equipment from their bicycle shop in Dayton to the flying field. A replica of that depot is pictured below. No trolley tracks can be seen there today.
 In the spring of 1904 the brothers cut the tall grass of the field with scythes to prepare the terrain for flying. Below is a picture of the field and a replica of the first wooden hanger they built for their airplane. They soon built a much larger hanger. This also later became the location of  Wright Flying School.
 From this area John and I drove to the Huffman Prairie Interpretive Center, also located on the base. In the center we were able to try a flight simulator using the rudimentary controls which the Wright brothers built into their first plane. With the assistance of a park ranger we learned how to handle the lever which, when moved forward or backward, controlled the pitch of the plane. John and I never were successful in keeping our planes up the three minutes allowed for one flight on the simulator. At Carillon Center (more on that museum in my next posting) we saw the reconstructed first practical plane made by the brothers. After trying that simulated flight in the center, the mechanics of that first plane did make some sense to me. I could understand the principle of how, by lying in a snugly hip-fitting cradle and shifting side to side, the pilot operated the wing warping mechanism. And there are two  levers to control a front elevator and rear rudders, for pitch and yaw respectively.  A small motor to power the plane is on the pilot's right side. Orville, in 1947, was able to retrieve some of the 1905 Wright Flyer 111 parts and supervise its reconstruction.
Wilber Wright died in 1912, after the brothers had demonstrated successful flights in America and Europe. Orville died in 1948. It must have been amazing for him to see over the ensuing years what he and his brother had started in the field of aviation. By World War ll airplane technology had advanced a great distance from those first experiments in Huffman field!

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