Sunday, September 20, 2015

Huffman Prairie and the Wright Brothers

After their success at Kitty Hawk, Dayton, Ohio's Wright Brothers still needed to perfect their powered airplane technology. Instead of trekking back to Kill Devil Hills in North Carolina, chosen for its twenty-mile per hour average winds and its remote location on the Outer Banks, the Wrights decided to stay in Ohio, relying on the engine forged by their employee, Charlie Taylor, and a catapult to set and keep them aloft.

During the "flying seasons" of 1904 and 1905, Wilbur and Orville Wright experimented at Huffman Prairie, an 84-acre parcel of flat land that became the world's first airport. The brothers took hundreds of test flights there.

Huffman Prairie was about ten miles from the Wrights' home on Hawthorn Street and from their bicycle shop on Third in Dayton. They reached Huffman Prairie via the Interurban trolley that ran between Dayton and Springfield. The picture below shows the spot where the trolley stop was. As you approach the prairie, you travel along a narrow, tree-lined road that must be on the old trolley right-of-way.

Huffman Prairie is now part of the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base complex in Fairborn, Ohio. Below is an Ohio historical marker telling a bit about Huffman Prairie. You can walk all around the site where the history of the world was significantly changed.

Below are two views of Huffman Prairie. The second one shows replicas of the Wrights' hangar and catapult on the site where they placed them in 1904 and 1905.

If you haven't read David McCullough's wonderful biography of the Wright Brothers, I highly recommend it. It's a real treat! (By the way, Tom Hanks has bought the movie rights to McCullough's book.)

"If I were giving a young man advice as to how he might succeed in life, I would tell him, pick out a good father and mother, and begin life in Ohio." (Wilbur Wright)

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