2016 Trip Seven, The Berkshires, Sept. 11

Sunday September 11. Dayton Ohio

There really is a prairie at Huffman Prairie Flying Field

There really is a prairie at Huffman Prairie Flying Field

From the prairie testing fields to outer space, we saw the history of flight today. The National Park Service has several pieces of land that relate to the Wright Brothers. At the Huffman Prairie Interpretive Center by Wright-Patterson Air Force base, the Wright Brothers story continues. The brothers get patent protection and sell their first planes to the US Army.

A catapult was used to get the first planes into the air.

A catapult was used to get the first planes into the air.

Orville and Wilbur make a tour of Europe, demonstrating their plane and become probably the first international celebrities. Adoring crowds greet them in cities where they demonstrate their invention. Air travel had been a hot topic with many other efforts failing. Once skeptical crowds are convinced, they are known world-wide. However, two factors limit their financial success.

First, Wilbur dies in 1912 and while Orville continues, the dynamic synergy is lost. Second, WWI begins in the middle of 1914 and there is a frenzy to develop and improve upon the airplane. While Orville fights to protect the Wright Brothers patents, there is enough other inventive power at work to jump start the aviation industry. Orville sells the Wright airplane company and it later merges with the Curtiss Aviation Company. Orville spends most of the rest of his life as a consultant and inventor.

We drive two miles to Huffman Prairie Flying Field where the actual experimental flights took place. The field sits in a floodplain and the land has never been developed. A re-created hanger is here along with the catapult lifting device; they stand out against the flatness of the field. White flags on 20 foot poles mark the edges of the circular flight pattern used by the Wright brothers. All is quiet, no other visitors are in sight. After watching the films, we can visualize the funny little plane with one person flying around and around the field. Amazing.

A replica of the Wright Flyer III that was sold to the US Army

A replica of the Wright Flyer III that was sold to the US Army

Our next stop was the massive National Museum of the United States Air Force. This complex of four huge hangers is stuffed with planes on the floor and hanging from the ceiling, small video displays, and numerous written explanations of the Air Force involvement in flight from balloon observations during the Civil War to the Space Shuttle. We spend five hours here.

Just a small portion of one of the four hangers

Just a small portion of one of the four hangers

It is impossible to absorb it all. Some of the displays are of test planes; commissioned for research purposes and never put into production. There are timelines of the battles fought in WWI,WWII,Korea and Vietnam. There are personal stories of ordinary airmen and of aces.

Air Force One

Air Force One

The large plane in the middle was nicknamed Valkyrie. It was a test plane and never made it into production.

The large plane in the middle was nicknamed Valkyrie. It was a test plane and never made it into production.

We walked inside a mock-up of the Space Shuttle. We walked through Air Force One, the plane that went into service in 1962, serving eight Presidents. It was the plane that carried the casket of President Kennedy back to DC from Dallas. We walked into cargo and troop transports. We learned that Presidents and First Ladies travel on other, smaller jets besides Air Force One. We learned that Wright Patterson Air Force Base is still a major research facility for aviation. And we learned that five hours of walking is very tiring.

Our Evergreen hosts in Dayton invited us to a picnic dinner held by the Dayton Chapter of Friendship Force, a nonprofit cultural exchange organization that promotes friendship and goodwill through a program of homestay exchanges. It was a pleasant gathering of friendly people and good food and a nice way to bring the day to a close.

Chris and Ed

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