Dayton’s Aviation History: Why it Matters

Photo by National Park Service

Where the Wright Brothers invented the airplane

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A wealth of sites related to Dayton’s aviation history make it a go-to destination for aviation enthusiasts. Most people know the Wright Brothers’ historic first flight took place in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. But did you know they invented the airplane back home in Dayton, Ohio?

Day 1: Where Dayton’s Aviation History All Started

The best place to start your visit is the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park. It consists of two interpretive centers in different locations. Begin at the Wright-Dunbar Interpretive Center & Wright Cycle Company Complex. A film about Wilbur and Orville Wright provides an overview of their early careers and their process of inventing the airplane. After that, explore the interactive exhibits throughout the interpretive center. Next, visit their print shop and one of their bicycle shops which are located in adjacent buildings.

After a lunch break, drive over to the Huffman Prairie Flying Field Interpretive Center. This center is located near the field where the Wright Brothers conducted flying experiments after their success at Kitty Hawk. The exhibits focus on the continuing story of the Wright Brothers and the advancement of aviation.

Day 2: More Wright Brothers History

Start the day by paying your respects to Wilbur and Orville Wright at their final resting place in Woodland Cemetery and Arboretum.

Did you enjoy learning about the Wright Flyer III on Day 1? Then go see the real thing on Day 2 at Carillon Historical Park. The original 1905 aircraft was the world’s first practical airplane and is also a National Historic Landmark. Expect to be inspired not only by the Wright Brothers but also by Dayton’s other inventions including the cash register and automobile self-starter. If you visit on a Wednesday or Saturday, purchase an upgraded ticket which includes a tour of Hawthorn Hill, the final home of Orville Wright. The park includes a café and the 1850s-style Carillon Brewing Co., making it easy to spend a full day (and maybe the evening) there.

Day 3: From the Wright Brothers through Stealth Fighters

Make sure you wear your most comfortable pair of shoes for your visit to the National Museum of the United States Air Force. This immense museum has over 19 acres of exhibits with free admission. About a million people each year visit this attraction which is the world’s oldest and largest military aviation museum. More than 360 aircraft and missiles are displayed. Galleries are organized chronologically, from the Wright Brothers through modern stealth aircraft. Additional exhibits feature presidential aircraft and the Space Shuttle. Expect to spend an entire day (or more) here.

If You Have More Than Three Days

If you want to take your time and see everything at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, consider adding an extra day or even two.

Drive about an hour north of Dayton to the Armstrong Air & Space Museum in Wapakoneta. Learn about another famous Ohioan, Neil Armstrong. See artifacts like his aircraft, spacesuits and a moon rock.


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