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Wright Cycle Shop

Photo from National Historic Landmarks collection

Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park commemorates the work of Orville and Wilbur Wright in the Dayton, Ohio, area where the brothers lived and worked. Historic sites at the park include the building which housed the Wright Cycle Company and Wright and Wright Printing; Huffman Prairie Flying Field; and the 1905 biplane, Wright Flyer III. Although the test flights at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, represented a major breakthrough in humanity's conquest of the air, the Wright's attempts to conquer the air began when they were children in Dayton with the parental encouragement they were given to experiment and investigate whatever aroused their curiosity.

By the fall of 1896, the Wright brothers began tackling the problems of mechanical human flight. By July 1899, they had discovered the fundamental aeronautical principle of lateral control, among the Wright brothers' greatest achievements. The Wrights realized from the beginning that a key problem of human flight was how to control the machine in the air. Previous aviation experiments had determined how to control a craft in pitch (vertical control) and yaw (horizontal control), but no one before the Wrights had yet discovered or developed a principle of roll (lateral control). However, after more than two years of watching buzzards gliding over a hill in Dayton, the Wrights realized that by twisting the wings so that on one side a greater angle was made to the wind, and on the other side there was simultaneously less of an angle, an airplane could be rolled to one side or the other.

The Wrights set out to test this theory and in August 1899 they built their first aircraft, a bi-plane kite, and test flew it in a vacant lot in west Dayton. The wing-warping worked; the kite was controllable, and the Wrights went on in 1900 to build their first man-carrying glider. They made a dozen successful flights in Kitty Hawk and conducted an intensive aerodynamic program in their bicycle shop in the fall of 1901 which perfected a newer glider, and later, in the same shop, with the help of their mechanic, Charlie Taylor, they designed and built an engine for an airplane, which met with success on December 17, 1903, in Kitty Hawk.

Wright Cycle Company and Wright and Wright Printing: In this brick building, a National Historic Landmark, Wilbur and Orville Wright manufactured bicycles on the first floor and operated a printing press on the second floor from 1895 to 1897. The two years they spent working with sprockets, spokes, chain drives, tires, metals and machines were of inestimable value in preparing the brothers for their subsequent success with gliders and flying machines. In addition, the profits they made from their businesses helped finance their later aviation experiments. It was while the Wrights occupied the building at 22 South Williams Street that they became seriously and actively interested in solving the problems of heavier-than-air powered flight. The printing business on the second floor required access to national news wires, which carried word of Otto Lilienthal's death to the shop in 1896. Lilienthal, the famous German aviation pioneer known as the father of gliding and credited as the first man in the world to launch himself into the air and fly, died from injuries received in a glider accident and his death catalyzed the brothers' interest in developing a safe and practical flying machine. The shop, integral to the development of the airplane, has been restored and opened to the public.

Huffman Prairie Flying Field

Photo from National Historic Landmarks collection

Huffman Prairie Flying Field: Huffman Prairie Flying Field was designated a National Historic Landmark, for its role in the development and testing of the world's first practical airplane, the Wright Flyer III. Huffman Field, touted by some as the cradle of aviation and the world's first aerodrome, is the flying field where Wilbur and Orville Wright obtained the necessary practice and experience to master the principles of flight. Huffman Field was a farm meadow used for livestock in 1904 when the Wright brothers began their flying experiments here and constructed a hangar for that purpose. The low, wooden gable-roofed shed was converted into a livestock shelter in the winter of 1904 and torn down thereafter. A larger hangar was constructed in 1905 and replaced in 1910 when the Wrights built a new one near the intersection of the Yellow Springs and Springfield Pike for the Wright Company. The Wrights developed a derrick and weight launching system and positioned it on Huffman Field in 1904; this system rolled planes down a short launching rail. In 1910 the Wright brothers replaced this system with the use of airplane skids. Although previously operating a winter flying school in Montgomery, Alabama, Orville Wright, the principal instructor of the school, moved the permanent operations to Huffman Field in 1910. Among the most notable students trained at Huffman were Lt. Henry H. "Hap" Arnold, Commander of the U.S. Army Air Corps in World War II; Griffith Brewer, the first Englishmen to fly an airplane; Cal P. Rodgers, the first person to fly across the United States; A. Roy Brown, the pilot who shot down the Red Baron during World War I; and three daring women: Rose Dugan, Mrs. Richard Hornsby and Marjorie Stinson. While the terrain has changed little since the Wright brothers used Huffman prairie, no buildings dating from the Wright brothers' experiments remain on the site.

[photo] Wright Flyer III
Photo from National Historic Landmarks collection
Wright Flyer III: This muslin-over-wood biplane, constructed in 1905, is one of three experimental flyers designed and built by the Wright brothers in their quest to develop a practical airplane, and is today a National Historic Landmark. Weighing 710 pounds and standing nine feet, five and one eighth inches tall and 28 feet long, the Flyer III carries a wing area of 503 square feet and a horizontal front rudder area of 83 square feet. Powered by a 20-horsepower modified automobile-type engine attached to twin pusher-type propellers, Wright Flyer III was the first airplane capable of sustained and controlled flight and suitable for practical application. The Wright brothers themselves, recognizing the significance of their 1905 machine, stated, "From the beginning the prime objective was to devise a machine of practical utility, rather than a useless and extravagant toy." With Flyer III, the Wright brothers perfected the technique of flying and designed a powered airplane completely controllable by the pilot; able to bank, turn, circle, and make figure eights; withstand repeated take-offs and landings; and remain airborne trouble free for more than half an hour. Flyer III was also the first airplane capable of scouting in warfare, carrying mail to isolated places, exploring and sport-uses the Wrights envisioned for their practical invention.

The Wright Brothers sites in Ohio are located within Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park in Montgomery County, Ohio, and within the boundaries of the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Greene County, Ohio. The Wright Cycle Company is located at 22 South Williams St., in Dayton and the Huffman Prairie Flying Field Interpretive Center is located on Pylon and Marl Rd. at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base; both are open 8:30am to 5:00pm daily, closed major holidays. Wright Flyer III is on display at the John W. Berry, Sr. Wright Brothers Aviation Center. It is open April-October, Tuesday-Saturday from 9:30am to 5:00pm; open Sunday and holidays from 12:00pm to 5:00pm. All sites require an admission fee. Please call 937-225-7705 for further information or visit the park's website.

The Wright Brothers sites at Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historic Park are the subject of an online-lesson plan produced by Teaching with Historic Places, a National Register program that offers classroom-ready lesson plans on properties listed in the National Register. To learn more, visit the Teaching with Historic Places home page.

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