What Dreams We Have
The Wright Brothers and Their Hometown of Dayton, Ohio
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Chapter 11
Aviation In The Miami Valley

Beginning with Wilbur and Orville Wright, the Miami Valley grew from the birthplace of aviation into a hub of aviation research and development through the various companies, military installations, and airports that were established in the region. Many of the aviation sites grew out of the work of the Wright brothers while others were developed by entrepreneurs with an interest in aviation. The variety of this development was instrumental in forming Dayton's future role in aviation.

The airplane was first brought to the attention of the general public through exhibition flights. Long thought of as an impossibility, airplanes induced large numbers of people to flock to fair grounds and other large areas to witness flights. These flights were organized in conjunction with not only county fairs, but circuses, carnivals, and any other possible venue. A gate fee was charged to attend an exhibition, and the profits were shared with sponsors and the participating aviation companies. When several organized exhibition teams were established, the demonstrations became organized flying meets with prizes awarded in specific categories. In addition to the excitement generated by the competition, most of the attendees came to be convinced that human flight was a reality. [1]

At the same time exhibition flying was popular, the first airplane flight demonstrating the possibility of the airplane as a freight carrier originated at Huffman Prairie Flying Field. Occurring in November 1910, the pilot left Dayton carrying a bolt of silk bound for Columbus. Despite the eventual practicality of this experiment, its significance was almost lost when compared to the excitement generated by the exhibition flights that included aerial stunts. But this did not halt efforts to identify a practical use for airplanes. Experiments in air-mail flights began in 1911 and the first commercial service began in 1913, yet neither of these uses for airplanes were immediately developed. [2]

Despite the expanding uses for airplanes, they were still limited. For this reason, airplane production was slow in its maturation towards becoming a national product. The United States Census of Manufacturers, at least through 1920, did not tabulate the airplane manufacturers separately but as part of the miscellaneous industries. These statistics show that in 1909 there were no airplane production facilities, but by 1914 a total of sixteen companies manufactured both airplanes and parts. These companies employed 168 people and netted $135,000 for the year. There were three companies in both California and New York and two in Illinois. Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Jersey, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Washington each contained one manufacturing facility. [3] These numbers were in conflict with those reported by Scientific American in 1911. In what appear to be overly optimistic figures, the magazine stated that there were approximately one dozen companies constructing airplanes and fifty engaged in producing parts and supplies. [4]

This low number of factories reflected in the manufacturing census is understandable, for at that time, airplanes were not viewed as having a practical use. In the views of businessmen, a demand did not exist to sustain an aircraft production company. Aerial stunts and endurance flights drew large crowds and generated revenue, but a commercial use for the airplane was not yet defined. [5]

The establishment of The Wright Company factory in 1910 was a step towards Dayton's development as a focal point for aviation research and development. Founded by the Wright brothers and New York financiers, The Wright Company airplane production, exhibition team, and flying school brought the attention of the United States to Dayton, the Wright brothers' hometown and where the airplane was invented. This did not immediately foster industry growth, for people first sought affirmation of the existence and practicality of the airplane.

The onset of World War I in 1914 was a major factor in jump starting the fledgling United States aviation businesses. When American forces entered the war in April 1917, they lagged behind other countries in aviation. At the start of the war, Germany operated 230 airplanes and four dirigibles; Great Britain, 110 airplanes; and France, 130 airplanes. Almost three years later, the Aviation Section of the U.S. Signal Corps consisted of fifty-five airplanes, of which most were trainers, and thirty-five pilots. In addition, the Navy and Marine Corps had fifty-four planes, one airship, and three balloons with forty-eight pilots. It was not just the number of aircraft in which the United States ranked behind the European countries, it was technology. Three years of war had produced aviation advancements in Europe which were still foreign to American aviation. [6]

The process of catching up with Europe was a rude awakening for the United States. In the previous years, without the threat of imminent war and pressure from the aviation industry, the government dedicated little money to the improvement of aviation. At the onset of the war, the United States Congress substantially increased the military's budget for aviation, and one of the first actions taken was the establishment and further development of the military aviation programs.

As part of the military's commitment to aviation during World War I, the Army established Wilbur Wright Field in Dayton. This started a military presence in Dayton that continues to the present. The United States Army first demonstrated their commitment to aviation in 1908, when they awarded the contract for a military airplane to the Wright brothers. Edward A. Deeds, the chairman of The National Cash Register Company and a leading citizen in Dayton, worked with the Signal Corps to develop an aviation school in Dayton. Through his United States military contacts, Deeds was aware of a plan to establish a flying school when the necessary funds were available. [7]

When the funds were authorized by Congress in 1916, Deeds suggested developing the Huffman Prairie Flying Field and surrounding acreage into the new flying school, and it was included in those considered by the military as a suitable location. After studying each potential site, the board of officers recommended the Dayton location to the Secretary of War. They concluded the government should lease 2,500 acres, which included the Huffman Prairie Flying Field, with an option to purchase. [8]

On May 22, 1917, the Signal Corps signed a short-term lease with the Miami Conservancy District, the owners of the entire acreage, for 2,075 acres of land located between the Huffman Dam and the City of Fairfield until June 30, 1917. The lease contained an option for renewal for one year beginning July 1, 1917, for a total of 2,245.20 acres, slightly more property than the short-term lease. On June 6, 1917, the Signal Corps announced that the new aviation school would be known as Wilbur Wright Field, in honor of the coinventor of the airplane. [9]

Wilbur Wright Field
(Courtesy of NCR Archives at Montgomery County Historical Society)

The newly constructed buildings were built on the high ground while the flying field was located near the river. The Signal Corps Aviation School officially began operations at the new field on June 28, 1917. During the first year of operation, an average of 160 students per month were enrolled in the school. As one of the four largest United States military aviation schools, when Wilbur Wright Field opened, it supported four school squadrons, twenty-four hangars, 1,700 personnel and up to 144 airplanes. At the end of World War I, the training mission was terminated although the military continued to operate the field. [10]

Wilbur Wright Field was in the international spotlight from October 2-4, 1924, when the field hosted the International Air Races. The event was sponsored by the National Aeronautic Association (NAA) whose president in 1924 was Frederick B. Patterson, the president of The National Cash Register Company. A high level of support for the event was received from Dayton; schools were closed and factories were shut down. One of the largest attractions was the reassembled 1903 Wright Flyer, which was not flown, but placed on exhibit in the 1910 hangar. The three days consisted of many air races, which offered a variety of prizes from money to trophies. One of the most prestigious awards of the event was the Pulitzer Trophy, which included $80,000 in prize money. [11]

At the same time the Signal Corps was negotiating with the Miami Conservancy District for the establishment of Wilbur Wright Field, discussions were in progress for the establishment of an aviation supply depot in Fairfield, Ohio, northeast of Dayton. Plans called for the depot to be located in Dayton to supply the Signal Corps aviation schools in the eastern United States which included Wilbur Wright Field, Scott and Chanute Fields in Illinois, and Selfridge Field in Michigan. On June 10, 1917, the Signal Corps Construction Division purchased forty acres of land from the Miami Conservancy District for $8,000. The triangular tract of land bordered Wilbur Wright Field on the north and west. [12]

Construction began shortly after the purchase, and the supply depot officially opened on January 4, 1918. Designated the Fairfield Aviation General Supply Depot, the depot provided everything from airplane parts and engines to the shoe laces for mechanics' shoes under its primary mission to provide supply support for wartime training operations. In the decades after World War I, the supply depot went through several transformations and name changes. The first transformation was immediately after World War I, when the flying school at Wilbur Wright Field was discontinued, and the field and the depot merged. The various other names for the depot were Wilbur Wright Air Service Depot, Aviation General Supply Depot, Air Service Supply and Repair Depot, Fairfield Intermediate Air Depot, and Fairfield Air Depot Reservation. In 1925, the depot technically became part of Wright Field and, in 1931, part of Patterson Field. The Fairfield depot was deactivated in 1946. [13]

The Army also established McCook Field in Dayton in September 1917. The home of the Airplane Engineering Department of the Signal Corps, McCook Field was the first United States military aviation research center, and it was located along the Great Miami River north of downtown Dayton. The purpose of McCook Field, named for General Alexander McDowell McCook who once owned part of the property and was part of the Fighting McCooks of Civil War fame, was to centralize the wide spread military aviation research to provide better support in World War I. The 200-acre site was leased for $12,800 per year from the Dayton Metal Products Company. The land had already been partially cleared in anticipation of developing a flying school. [14]

The first personnel arrived at McCook Field in December. The engineers and other staff at McCook Field researched, developed, manufactured, tested, and evaluated military aircraft and all associated components and equipment. By 1919, McCook Field totaled 254 acres, sixtynine buildings, and a runway. The types of buildings ranged from hangars, offices, a wind tunnel, and a hospital. [15]

As the military further defined and established their aeronautical programs in preparation for the war, they also turned to private industry to help improve the quality of American airplanes and the technology incorporated into them. At the onset of World War I, Congress appropriated $640 million for the construction of 20,475 airplanes in twelve months, and the military planned to contract with aviation manufacturers to meet the requirements. The increased business and available funds caused a rapid growth in the industry, and between 1914 and 1919, the number of airplane and part manufacturers almost doubled to a total of thirty-one. [16]

One of the companies incorporated during this time period was the Dayton Wright Airplane Company. In 1916, the probability of the United States entering the conflict, which ultimately developed into World War I, caught the attention of several Dayton businessmen, including Edward A. Deeds and Charles F. Kettering. These men saw economic benefits in strengthening the United States military program. [17]

As a result, in 1917, Deeds and Kettering incorporated the Dayton Airplane Company to manufacture airplanes for World War I. For several years prior to the official establishment of the company, experimental work on airplanes was conducted in the research section of the Dayton Metal Products Company, also owned by Deeds and Kettering. Deeds and Kettering had a long history together. Both worked at The National Cash Register Company under John H. Patterson, and in 1914, they founded the Dayton Engineering Laboratories (DELCO) to produce the automobile self-starter they invented. The profits they received from DELCO were used to start the Dayton Metal Products Company. [18]

When Orville sold The Wright Company in October 1915 to a group of New York financiers, they reorganized the company and continued airplane production under the name of The Wright Company. The newly formed company was not successful, and in 1916 it was merged with the Glenn L. Martin Company and the Simplex Automobile Company of New Brunswick, New Jersey, to create the Wright-Martin Company. The new company established their headquarters at the Simplex manufacturing plant, and in March 1917, production was relocated from the old The Wright Company factory buildings in Dayton to New Jersey. [19]

Wright-Martin thrived as a manufacturer of engines instead of airplanes. Dissatisfied with the new orientation of the company, Glenn L. Martin left the Wright-Martin Company in 1917 to establish the Glenn L. Martin Company. In 1919, the Wright-Martin Company was reorganized and renamed the Wright Aeronautical Company. In the 1920s, the company was known as the most innovative engine company in the United States. The company changed names once again in 1929 when it merged with the Curtiss Aeroplane Company to form the Curtiss-Wright Company. [20]

When the Wright-Martin Company vacated the Dayton factory buildings in 1917, they arranged to lease the buildings to another firm and severed all connections with Dayton. Many of the office personnel and workmen who worked at the Dayton factory were hesitant to move to New Jersey, and this pool of available skilled labor was one of the elements that inspired Deeds and Kettering to form the Dayton Airplane Company. When they established the company in 1917, they arranged to have Orville Wright as a member of the board and a consulting engineer. The other members of the board were H.E. Talbott, Sr., and his son, H.E. Talbott, Jr. The company was reorganized as The Dayton Wright Airplane Company on April 9, 1917. [21]

The Dayton Wright Airplane Company was originally conceived as an organization to research and carry out experiments on some aviation ideas of Orville's, but as the United States entry into the war became a reality, the purpose of The Dayton Wright Airplane Company turned to bringing together executives and manufacturers in the aeronautical field to benefit the United States in the war effort. The company's experimental station was located at South Field in Moraine where Howard Reinhart operated an airport. A total of 65,000 square feet of floor space in several buildings at South Field served as a small-scale factory and aeronautical laboratory. The available runway and two-hundred acre flying field supported experimental flights. [22]

When the United States entered World War I in April 1917 by declaring war on Germany, Deeds was commissioned a colonel and placed in charge of aircraft procurement for the Aircraft Production Board. In order to avoid a conflict of interest, Deeds divested himself of any financial interest in The Dayton Wright Airplane Company, but he did keep allegiance to the Dayton company. In August he was instrumental in awarding a contract to The Dayton Wright Airplane Company for the production of 400 Standard J-1 training planes. The original contract was amended several times, the end agreement being for the training planes and 5,000 DeHavilland-4 reconnaissance bombers. [23]

At the same time as Deeds, Orville was commissioned a major in the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps Reserve Corps, but never wore a uniform or referred to his rank in correspondence. While there was some discussion of placing him in Washington, Orville was ordered to remain in Dayton and work with the engineers at The Dayton Wright Airplane Company. [24]

One of the projects of the greatest interest to Orville during this period was under development by Kettering. Known as the Kettering Bug, it was the world's first guided missile, a three hundred pound unmanned machine constructed of papier-mâché with twelve-foot cardboard wings and powered by a four-cylinder engine. The device had the capability to carry 300 pounds of explosives at fifty miles per hour. The total cost was $400 each. The missile was launched from a rail pointed in the direction of a target located behind enemy lines. The possibilities for the Kettering Bug were favorable, but Kettering, with occasional assistance from Orville, was still working on the project at the end of the war. [25]

In order to meet the requirements of the contract with the Airplane Production Board, in August 1917, The Dayton Wright Airplane Company purchased a plant from the Domestic Engineering Company at 4100 Springboro Road in Moraine. The Domestic Engineering Company planned to construct the DELCO light for rural electrification in the new factory, but they sold the building due to the needed space for wartime construction. At that time, the building measured 1350 feet in length and 270 feet wide. Soon, additional space was added to the structure and more buildings, such as warehouses, were constructed at the site. Two more factory sites were acquired to enable the company to meet the production requirements of the DeHavilland-4 contract. The first additional site was located in Miamisburg, eight miles from the main factory. The Miamisburg site, named Plant 2, contained 100,000 square feet of floor space and was used for the manufacture of propellers, wires, landing gear, and rear fuselages. The next acquisition, designated Plant 3, was the former The Wright Company factory buildings on West Third Street. The buildings were used for creating metal fittings and all emergency work. [26]

The first DeHavilland-4 plane produced in the United States was assembled by The Dayton Wright Airplane Company at South Field. In order to adapt the plane to the Liberty engine, the company engineers worked with representatives from the Signal Corps to modify the original design. The first plane was completed on October 29, 1917, and called the "Canary" due to its yellow color. The plane was retained by The Dayton Wright Airplane Company for experimental use such as testing alterations in the design. [27]

Proud of their involvement in the production of wartime airplanes, The Dayton Wright Airplane Company never missed an opportunity for promotion. Orville flew as a pilot for the last time on May 13, 1918, in a publicity event for the company. Orville piloted a 1911 plane in formation with a Dayton constructed DeHavilland-4. After the flight, which was widely recorded by newspaper reporters, Orville landed his plane and boarded the DeHavilland-4 as a passenger. [28]

During the later part of 1918, the company employed a total of 8,000 people at all four sites. The maximum production rate prior to the end of the war reached forty planes per day. When the armistice was signed with Germany, the Dayton Wright Airplane Company had produced a total of 400 training planes and 2,703 DeHavilland-4 battle planes. Official orders at that time called for the company to cease production when 3,100 planes were completed. [29]

(Courtesy of NCR Archives at Montgomery County Historical Society)

As war production increased, small aviation manufacturers complained that their bids for government contracts were rejected in favor of larger manufacturers, such as The Dayton Wright Airplane Company, who had substantial influence in Washington. The complaints focused on the fact that this influence outweighed the actual experience of the companies. The sculptor Gutzom Borglum initiated an investigation in 1917 into the activities of the Aircraft Production Board when they ignored a design he submitted. A Senate Committee investigated many allegations in relation to the Aircraft Production Board, including the charge that Deeds had favored his Dayton friends in awarding the production contract to The Dayton Wright Airplane Company. [30]

In addition, President Woodrow Wilson appointed Charles Evans Hughes to head a special commission to study the wartime aircraft acquisition program. The Hughes Commission did not charge Deeds with any violation, but it did recommend that the Army court-martial him due to charges of mismanagement and favoritism. Orville testified before the Hughes Commission, but since he was not a shareholder or manager in The Dayton Wright Airplane Company, he avoided any charges of wrong doing. Eventually, the Army decided against taking any action against Deeds. [31]

Immediately at the conclusion of World War I, military contracts were canceled and the aviation industry experienced a rapid decline in business. This was due to the fact that unlike other industries, aviation did not have an existing civilian demand to turn toward. The war that boosted the American aviation industry now caused a new turn in the nascent industry; a new market needed to emerge for the airplane. Concluding that this would be commercial use, airplane manufacturers turned to commercial airplane construction, but this was a small to non-existent market. It was estimated that ninety percent of the manufacturing plants established during the war were closed by 1919. [32]

One of the companies that turned to commercial airplane construction was The Dayton Wright Airplane Company. In 1920 they advertised the sale of three types of airplanes developed by company engineers, which embodied safety, speed, and comfort. The Model K-T Cabin Cruiser had a six-hour cruising radius that made it desirable as a plane for covering great distances at a high rate of speed. The Model O-W Aerial Coupe held three passengers and carried enough fuel for five and a half hours of flight. The last model, Nine-Hour Cruiser, had greater speed than the other models but was lacking the extra seating and enclosed cockpit. [33]

In order to assist purchasers in learning to pilot the planes, The Dayton Wright Airplane Company operated a flying school at South Field. Since the flying school was located near the factory buildings, the students at the flying school had the unique experience of watching the assembly of planes as well as learning to operate the airplanes. The actual lessons consisted of lectures and training flights. The cost was $450.00 for ground instruction and flying time and $250.00 for students owning their own plane. Students who purchased a plane from the company were given lessons free of charge. [34]

The General Motors Corporation purchased The Dayton Wright Airplane Company in 1919 and continued its operations until June 1, 1923, when it ceased any involvement in the airplane business. In 1923, General Motors formed the Inland Manufacturing Company and located it in the former buildings of The Wright Company in West Dayton. Three new buildings in the same design as the original two were erected on the site the same year. The first items produced at Inland were wood veneer iron steering wheels for automobiles. [35]

When General Motors purchased the airplane company, Orville continued as a consulting engineer, although he continued to work in his West Dayton laboratory and not in the factory. He occasionally made trips to the facilities to consult with the Dayton Wright Airplane Company employees on various projects. Orville's last important contribution to aeronautics was a split wing that he invented along with Dayton Wright employee James H. Jacobs, who had also worked for The Wright Company. The split flap was designed to increase lift and enabled a pilot to reduce the plane's speed in a steep dive. Orville conceived of the idea when he experimented with hydroplanes in the Miami River in 1914, and he further explored it using a wind tunnel in his laboratory. Jacobs assisted him in developing the concept. The two applied for a patent in 1921, and it was issued three years later. [36]

The change of focus after World War I from military to civilian aviation was not the key to saving the aviation industry. Annual production decreased from an estimated 21,000 airplanes at the end of the war to between 500 and 1,200 in 1925. While the military was not pumping money into aviation at the rate of the war years, the decreased military efforts still played a vital role in developing aviation in the United States. [37]

An example of the aviation advancements made by the military that assisted both military and civilian aviation was the work conducted at McCook Field beginning in 1920. The contributions included: development of the modern free fall parachute; development of aerial photography; high altitude experiments that led to successful high altitude flights; propeller and engine improvements; and the design and testing of aircraft. Also, the field was involved in several record-breaking flights, the first of which was the first nonstop flight across North America. Two McCook test pilots flew 2470 miles in twenty-six hours on May 2-3, 1923, to complete the first flight. McCook Field served as the logistics center for the first flight around the world in 1924, and three of the personnel involved in the flight, two pilots and one mechanic, were from McCook. In 1924, all production work ceased at McCook Field and the personnel concentrated on evaluating the designs for aircraft produced by commercial firms and purchased by the military. [38]

Since the size of the field and its location inhibited many experiments, the motto for McCook Field became, "This field is small. Use it all." Only minimal experiments to test in-flight airplanes took place at the field for these reasons, and eventually the lack of space and the need for larger quarters caused McCook Field to close. Since McCook Field was originally established as a temporary experimental site for wartime testing, discussions regarding relocating to a permanent home began immediately after World War I ended. [39]

In response to the possibility of the operations at McCook Field relocating to another city, Daytonians, in 1922, formed The Dayton Air Services Committee. The sole purpose of this committee was to guarantee the retention of the United States Army Air Service Experiment Station in Dayton. The committee was chaired by Frederick B. Patterson who took over the position when his father, John H. Patterson, the founder of The National Cash Register Company, died. The Dayton Air Services Committee raised $425,000 to purchase property for a new field. [40]

The property The Dayton Air Services Committee purchased was northeast of Dayton and included Wilbur Wright Field. The committee sold the property to the federal government in August 1924 for a token fee of two dollars for the establishment of an aeronautical engineering laboratory. Ground was broken for Wright Field, named in honor of Wilbur and Orville Wright, on April 16, 1926, and the new field was dedicated October 12, 1927. Orville Wright attended the ceremonies and raised the first flag over the facility. In the dedication program, a message from the Assistant Secretary of War claimed: "Many important chapters in air advancement have been written at McCook Field and all signs indicate that even more startling chapters of progress are to be penned at Wright Field. It gives promise of becoming one of the most important aviation proving grounds in the world." [41]

As the home for the newly formed Materiel Division, Wright Field was the focus of engineering, procurement, maintenance, and industrial war plans. Inherent in many of these categories was the need for research. As the dedication program for Wright Field explained, "The further development and improvement of the airplane is a problem requiring the continuous efforts of highly trained specialists in aerodynamics, structural analysis, design and flight testing." It was this work that would be conducted at Wright Field. [42]

Elsbeth Freudenthal, in her study of the aviation industry, argued that the work of the military and the pioneering efforts of individual flyers between the end of World War I and 1926 saved the industry from extinction. Through the efforts of the itinerant flyers and fixed-base operators, flying was translated into terms of public participation instead of being solely a military venture. Through their efforts, the general public realized that airplanes could become a mode of transportation and a part of everyday life. [43]

The story of the fixed-base operators and the development of commercial aviation relates directly to Dayton. Fixed-base operators were individuals who owned a small hanger and one or two airplanes, and they used these as a base for a small business. One example of this type of business was the small flying field established by Edward "Al" Johnson. Johnson was born in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1885, but his family moved to California when he was young. From 1909 until 1915, he owned and operated the Motor Express and Drayage Company in Oakland. Johnson then pursued his interest in flying and took lessons at the Curtiss school in North Island, California, and Buffalo, New York, and in 1915, he became a representative for the Curtiss Aeroplane Company in England. He returned to the United States the next year to become a civilian flight instructor for the Army in Mineola, New York, and McCook Field in Dayton. After World War I, Johnson worked for the postal service developing the airmail route between New York and Chicago. [44]

In 1921 Johnson returned to Dayton and leased seventy acres at the southwestern corner of the intersection of Wilmington Pike and Patterson Road from George W. Hartzell,who was the head of Hartzell Propeller Company in Piqua. It was here that Johnson located Johnson Flying Service. In 1927 the site did not have official landing strips, but pilots could land in any direction. It also contained a small warehouse and one hangar measuring 60'x120' with fourteen feet of clearance. The airfield was marked by "Johnson" painted on the roof of the hangar. The field also had white boundary lights and red lights in the corner of the landing field, fire equipment, a wind indicator, and refueling operations. Johnson occupied the site for seven years. [45]

The Johnson Flying Service offered plane rides to customers wishing to experience flight. The charge for a flight 1,500 feet over Oakwood and South Dayton was three dollars. For five dollars, a passenger was treated to a ten-minute flight over Hills and Dales and Dayton at 2,500 feet. The most expensive flight was ten dollars per passenger, and it consisted of a twenty-minute tour of the area at 4,000 feet. More than 15,000 individuals took advantage of Johnson's flights while he occupied the flying field on Wilmington Pike. [46]

For a short time, Johnson also manufactured airplanes at the location on Wilmington Pike. From 1924 to 1926, he produced the Driggs-Johnson and in 1926 the Johnson Twin 60. The Driggs-Johnson was a monoplane designed by Ivan Driggs, who soon quit working with Johnson to form his own company. The Johnson Twin-60 was a two-seat open cockpit biplane designed by Dave Earl Dunlap. It was developed to "meet the existing landing facilities, or rather lack of facilities." In order to do this, the plane was designed for low landing speeds, quick take-offs, and a good climbing ability. After this short delve into the manufacturing business, Johnson focused on operating the flying field and a repair business. [47]

In 1924 Johnson incorporated the Johnson Airplane and Supply Company. The company, located at 900 South Ludlow Street, supplied airplane materials, accessories, and equipment. Some of the items that were produced by the Johnson Airplane and Supply Company were log books, airport registers, dollies, wind cones, steel disc wheels, tail wheels, airspeed indicators, and gasoline gauges. By 1928, the company had established additional supply houses in Los Angeles, Kansas City, and New York City. [48]

As civilian aeronautics grew, so did aviation's applications in the military. In Dayton the military's presence continued although it was restructured from its earlier form. On July 1, 1931, portions of Wright Field and Fairfield Depot were renamed Patterson Field in honor of native Daytonian, Lieutenant Frank S. Patterson. [49] Patterson, along with Lieutenant Leroy A. Swan, died during an airplane crash at Wilbur Wright Field while firing at ground targets. The two were flying a DeHavilland-4 while testing the synchronization of a machine gun with the plane's propellers. In the changes, the land west of Huffman Dam remained Wright Field while the land east of the dam was designated Patterson Field. [50]

Wright Field and Patterson Field operated as separate installations from 1931 until the end of World War II. Wright Field was dedicated to engineering advancement while Patterson Field had a logistics mission, which was reflected by the Fairfield Air Depot. By 1945, the two installations had merged their functions and identities until they appeared as one unit. This was made official on January 13, 1948, when Wright Field and Patterson Field were merged into Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. This change coincided with many changes of Air Force fields into bases after the Air Force was created as a separate service in 1947. [51]

In the years since its formation, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base has developed into one of the largest Air Force Bases in the United States. The base covers 8,144 acres and houses over one hundred organizations. The main activities, growing out of the early work at Wright and McCook Fields, focus on aviation research and development in addition to logistics. [52]

The United States Air Force Museum on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, which traces its inception to 1923, is the oldest and largest military aviation museum in the world. A small museum to collect technical information was established in a section of a McCook Field hangar in 1923. This museum moved to Wright Field, along with the other operations of McCook Field, in 1927. After several other moves, the museum moved to its present building at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in 1971. The exhibits in the museum chronologically present the development of military aviation from man's earliest dreams of flight to present day. [53]

The growing aviation industry created new job opportunities across the United States and the further need for facilities, such as airports. When a group of Dayton businessmen and city officials began discussing the establishment of an airport, they approached Al Johnson, from Johnson Flying Service, for advice. Originally it was believed when McCook Field was abandoned by the military that the airfield would become Dayton's municipal airport. A new location needed to be selected when General Motors, which owned the majority of the site, announced they would not dispose of the property. As an alternative, Johnson recommended a 310-acre site in Vandalia. Plans for the city's municipal airport began in 1926. Two years later, in 1928, under an agreement with the Dayton Airport, Inc., a private corporation formed by the airport's founders, Johnson began operating the new Dayton airport under a $9,000 per year lease. At this time, Johnson vacated both the flying field at 1507 Wilmington Pike and a building he leased at 900 South Ludlow Street, and he consolidated all of the company's operations in Vandalia. [54]

After several years, many of the original owners of the Dayton Airport pulled out of the corporation, and by 1936 the company was almost disbanded. In order to save the airport, the City of Dayton purchased it. James M. Cox headed a committee which raised $65,000 for the city to purchase the airport from the private owners. By buying the airport, the city hoped to qualify for a Works Progress Administration (WPA) grant to upgrade the facility. As was hoped, the city received a grant from the WPA, and on December 17, 1939, the thirty-third anniversary of the Wright brothers' historic flight, the newly refurbished airport was dedicated. [55]

Many corporations located their businesses at the new airport. One of these was United Aircraft Products which was established in 1929. United Aircraft Products designed and manufactured heating and cooling devices for both civilian and military aircraft as well as missiles. [56]

William P. Lear, in 1934, located Lear Avia, Inc. at 437 North Dixie Drive at the Dayton airport. Lear, known as the developer of the Lear-jet, was interested in electricity and radios as a young boy in Chicago. Throughout the years, Lear located his companies in various cities throughout the United States, and his reasons for establishing Lear Avia, Inc. in Dayton were unclear. The company produced aircraft navigation instruments at the Vandalia factory. One of the most successful products was the Learscope, the first commercial radio compass and a Lear invention. By using this instrument, a pilot was able to navigate by following a signal broadcast by the Department of Commerce. The aircraft radios and accessories manufactured at Lear Avia were in great demand during World War II which caused Lear to move the company to larger quarters in Piqua to increase production capabilities. [57]

The Aeronautical Corporation of America (Aeronca), incorporated in Cincinnati in 1928, also had connections to Dayton. The company was organized and financed by five Cincinnati businessmen before they even had an airplane to produce. A deal was made with Jean Roche, from Dayton, in 1929 to produce his lightweight home built airplane, which the company named the C-2. Roche designed a training glider for the Army Air Services as an employee at McCook Field, and he built on this experience when he began designing his own airplane. [58]

Roche constructed his airplane in his garage at 28 Watts Street in Dayton with the help of John Q. Dohse, who was an assistant to Roche at McCook Field. The most difficult task of the undertaking was locating an engine to power the airplane. Roche and Dohse contacted Harold Morehouse, who designed a small two cylinder engine for use in blimp tests at McCook Field, and he agreed to join their project. Morehouse built a twenty-five to thirty horsepower engine, and the trio was ready to test their airplane on September 1, 1925. Dohse, elected as the test pilot, circled the field for twelve minutes and made a perfect landing. [59]

With the manufacture of the C-2, Aeronca became the first American company to build and market a truly light airplane. Their success continued, and between 1947 and 1950, the company leased a facility at the Dayton Municipal Airport to manufacture their Model 11 Chief. At first, parts were shipped from Aeronca's Middletown facility, and assembled at the Vandalia site. Later, the construction of the wings and covering was also carried on at the leased location. Managed by Harry Yerkes, the Vandalia operation produced 1,862 11A Chiefs and 100 11AS Scouts in 1948. In 1950 when Aeronca no longer needed the additional space, they abandoned operations at the Vandalia location. [60]

American Aircraft Company
(Courtesy of William Mayfield Collection, Marvin Christian Photography)

Of all the manufacturers in the Dayton area that were related to the aeronautics industry, more produced propellers than any other item. Founded in 1935, McCauley Aviation Corporation was located at 2901 West Third Street. The company was founded by Ernest G. McCauley, a former aerodynamics engineer at McCook Field, and produced propellers. A pioneer in propeller construction, McCauley introduced the first all-metal propeller to be sold in the United States as well as the first forged aluminum fixed-pitch propeller. The company, in 1941, relocated to 2900 West Second Street and moved again in 1943 to 1840 Howell Avenue where it remained for thirty-five years. In 1978, McCauley moved to 3535 McCauley Drive at the Dayton airport where it is still located. The company was acquired by Cessna Aircraft Company in 1960 and operates as one of the divisions. [61]

Another propeller company founded in 1935 was Engineering Products, founded by W.J. Blanchard and Charles J. MacNeil. While the company experimented with various types of propellers, they had no production facilities. Aeroprop, developed by Engineering Products, was a specialty propeller that was used extensively on World War II military aircraft. General Motors acquired Engineering Products, and renamed it Aeroproducts, in 1940. The propeller was manufactured at the plant located at North Dixie Drive and Engle Road which was part of the Inland Division Vandalia Plant of the General Motors Corporation, now DELPHI Chassis. [62]

The American Aircraft Manufacturing Company opened in Dayton in 1943. Richard A. Neikamp was the president, Delbert L. Mills the vicepresident, and Vera A. Neikamp the secretary. The company manufactured electric motors, special aircraft testing equipment, and auxiliary electric power plants in two plants in the Dayton area. The first plant was at 215 South Marion Street and the second at 1818 West Third Street. The company's executive offices were located at 704 North Main Street. The same people who formed the American Aircraft Manufacturing Company also founded the American Aircraft Associates. Also located in the offices at 704 North Main Street, this company provided aeronautical engineers for consulting, research, development, and electrical and mechanical work. [63]

While aeronautical businesses and military installations developed in Dayton, other companies appeared throughout the Miami Valley. One of the first was the Weaver Aircraft Company, known as WACO, which was formed in Lorain in November 1919. The founders were George Weaver, Charlie Meyers, Sam Junkin, and Clayton Brukner. The company moved to Medina in 1922 and underwent further change in March 1923 when Junkin and Brukner started the Advance Aircraft Company, which used the WACO logo, and relocated to Troy. The company changed names once again in 1929 to the WACO Aircraft Company. Between 1927 and 1930, WACO was the largest commercial aircraft manufacturer in the world. It ceased its Ohio operations in 1946. [64]

Businesses in support of aircraft production were also located in the Miami Valley. Hartzell Walnut Propeller Company, a division of the George W. Hartzell Company, began constructing propellers at 350 Washington Avenue in Piqua in 1917. During World War I, George W. Hartzell Company lost many customers of their walnut lumber products due to an embargo. The propeller industry was formed to offset this loss of business. Both The Dayton Wright Airplane Company and WACO Aircraft were customers of Hartzell Propeller, now called Hartzell. [65]

The many companies and military installations that developed in the Miami Valley further defined Dayton's position at the forefront of aviation development. The research that led to the development of new technology and the production of aircraft and parts was widespread throughout the region. What the Wright brothers began with their investigation into solving the question of human flight has continued into present day. Now instead of solving the basic problem, the community is working to refine and enhance aeronautical knowledge.


What Dreams We Have
©2003 Ann Honious.
Published by Eastern National

honious/chap11.htm — 18-Feb-2004