(by Charissa Durst, originally posted on September 7, 2012)
In the past two months, my husband Don and I managed to take a couple of weekend days off and explore the sites at the Dayton Aviation National Historical Park. Don has a National Park Service passport book and is obsessed with getting as many stamps as possible. Dayton is an easy day trip and good for five passport stamps.
On a Saturday in late June, we drove to Dayton and stopped at the Wright Brother’s Memorial near Area B of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. HDC actually worked on a project here in 2008-2009 to stabilize the archaeological mounds that ring the edge of the memorial site The memorial features a visitor center, memorial obelisk, and an overlook to Huffman Dam and the edge of Huffman Prairie Flying Field, where the Wilbur and Orville Wright perfected their flying machine in the early 1900s.
While at the visitor center, we picked up brochures for other area attractions and learned that if you visited seven of twelve aviation-related sites, you receive a free “Wilbear Wright” teddy bear, complete with goggles, scarf, and leather jacket. The bear looked really cute, so I was determined to get one!
The Wright Brothers Memorial provided one of the seven stamps. Next, we drove through downtown Dayton to the Wright Cycle Company complex, which consists of the shop operated by the Wright Brother and the Hoover Block, out of which the Wright Brothers operated a printing company. We received our second stamp at this location.
Next, we drove a few blocks further for our third stamp and a quick look at the Paul Dunbar House, jointly operated with the Ohio Historical Society. Paul Dunbar was a nationally-acclaimed African American poet who was also a friend and colleague of the Wright Brothers and their printing company. HDC did a study of Dunbar’s namesake theatre in Wichita, Kansas.
Paul Dunbar House in Dayton, Ohio
Our fourth stop was Carillon Historical Park, home of the 1905 Wright Flyer III. This was originally intended to be a quick stop to see the flyer and get a stamp, but on that particular Saturday the park was hosting a model train show. If there’s one thing my husband likes to do besides look at airplanes, it’s look at trains. So, we ended up staying at Carillon for the rest of the day, leaving me three stamps short of bringing the Wilbear home.
View of a Section of an N scale model railroad
So, on a weekend in early July, Don and I drove back to Dayton and headed south to see a working version of the Wright Model B Flyer and obtain our fifth stamp. Then, we headed back toward the National Museum of the United States Air Force for the sixth and seventh stamps (a separate one was issued for the Aviation Hall of Fame).
View of the Wright Model B Flyer
The Air Force Museum was packed, and trips to the hangars on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base were sold out earlier in the morning. Don and I had visited these once before, but not since they expanded into a third hangar bay. Oh well, maybe next time. Instead, we went to the newest section of the museum that we had not yet visited, which contained missiles and aircraft associated with the Southeast Asia and Cold War missions.
View of Cold War Gallery from the missile balcony
The missiles were displayed in their own two-story silo-like wing, arranged in a circle so the space resembled a columned temple. HDC had recently completed a project on the Nike Missile Battery in Cleveland, so I was actively looking for one. But, the museum did not have one of these missiles on display at this time.
View of missile display
Don and I also remembered with some amusement the advertisements plastering the billboards all over Dayton supporting either Lockheed’s YF-22 or Northrop’s YF-23 prototypes, one of which was due to be selected in April 1991 as the Air Force’s new advanced tactical fighter to replace the aging fleet of F-15 and F-16 aircraft. The YF-22 ultimately won that competition and one of the productions models was on display.
In the Cold War gallery, my eye fell immediately on the slick black shape of the F-117 Stealth Fighter. When Don and I were working on the HAER documentation of Area B in 1992, we got a phone call from the base historian to get out to the old runway to watch a plane landing. We actually witnessed this fighter land on the Area B runway on its way to being curated at the museum. We were able to walk around the plane after it landed, but could not get closer than 10 feet while and armed guard stood on duty because its avionics were still intact. But, it’s pretty cool to be able to point to that plane and know that I saw it fly in and land 20 years ago.
F-117 Stealth Fighter
But what about the Wilbear? Don wasn’t happy about it, but I made him drive all the way back into Dayton to pick one up at the Wright Cycle Company complex rather than send for it by mail. But, the Wilbear is really cute and well worth the effort it took to get the seven stamps!
Wilbear with one of Don’s biplane models.