Dayton Aviation Heritage NHP, National Museum of the Air Force and Paul Laurence Dunbar

4/30/14 Wednesday in Wilmington, OH (Wilmington-TT)

Another rough night for John – up with his allergy symptoms. I woke up several times but no headaches and I think I got back to sleep fairly quickly. Raining this morning.

Big day today, so off we went to Dayton, arriving at 11 am. First off everything we saw today was free (there are 2 homes in the complex that have a fee) and there was much more that we didn’t get to in the Aviation Heritage complex.

visitor center 1

This is where Wilbur (1867-1912) and Orville (1871-1948) grew up, in a house of talkers and tinkerers. Their dad was a preacher, their mom loved making machines. While helping his father print church bulletins, Wilbur invented a machine to fold paper. His younger brother Orville built and sold kites. While still in high school Orville opened a print shop. Later Wilbur joined him. They created/built their own printing press in the beginning, for magazines. Later they purchased one for making small bulletins which was a far more profitable business.

printing press 2

When they discovered the fun of bicycling they started a bicycle business-even inventing a bicycle with improved brakes.

bicycle shop 1 bicycle shop 2 bicycle shop 3 bicycle shop 4bicycle 1 bicycle 2

In 1896 the German aviation pioneer Otto Lilienthal died after crashing one of his gliders. The brothers were shaken by the news, but it reawakened their interest in flying machines. In 1899 Wilbur wrote the Smithsonian asking for information on planes. In essence, their machine needed wings for lift, power for push and control in 3 areas: roll, pitch and yaw.(click on image to enlarge and read)

plane info

By 1900 they had studied how birds’ wings moved and used their bike-building skills to build experimental gliders and were ready to test one at a place that was wide open with big winds. They found Kitty Hawk (on the Outer Banks of South Carolina). Their many failures there caused them to reconsider the formulas they’d been working with-by Lilienthal. They spent weeks thinking, tinkering, testing wings in the wind tunnel they invented. The second one pictured below is from 1916 – not the original.

wind tunnel 0 wind tunnel 1

Their 1902 glider (below is a replica) was based on what they learned.


In 1903 they built an airplane, making their first successful flight for 12 seconds on December 17th. Since it was difficult working in the wind and sand of Kitty Hawk, they decided to return to Dayton for further investigations. Here they got permission to use a farmer’s field for their flights. Their airplane had sort of metal rudders it ran along a track for beginning take off. Except that after laying the track, often the wind would change so they’d have to lay it all over again. At this point they built a pully system catapult that, as a huge iron weight dropped it would send the plane off on the track, regardless of the wind. Notice that Orville (most of the time) is lying prone in the center of the bottom wing. 2 propellers are moving behind him (engine push). Ahead of the wings is the “elevator” that he used to control lift. He used a stick connected to bicycle chains which were connected to the wings. Thus he could warp the wings and control turning the plane quickly. By October 1905 they were staying aloft until they ran out of fuel: 39 minutes and 24 miles. They flew in straight lines, circles and graceful arcs-almost like a bird. By now crowds of people had been gathering in the field to watch. When the brothers reached this point, they stopped flying their plane, fearing others might try to copy it and steal their ideas.

airplane in field

This is when they traveled through Europe trying to sell their planes, after US Military turned them down. They got their first orders in 1909. Dayton celebrated:

visitor center 2

The next year they built an airplane factory, opened a flight school and started an exhibition flying team. Wilbur traveled often appearing in courtrooms trying to protect their invention. He came home sick from a trip in 1912 and died. Orville eventually sold the company and tinkered in his personal laboratory for the rest of his life. He lived until 1948-long enough to even see commercial airplanes.

Here we also learned that Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906) was a great poet from Dayton who was in the same class as Orville. They even printed his newspaper and tickets for his poetry performances. He’s the poet who wrote the words Maya Angelou used for the title of her autobiography:

It is not a carol of joy or glee,

But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,

But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings-

I know why the caged bird sings!

This talented young man supported his mother (both his parents had been slaves) by working as an elevator operator, because he couldn’t get jobs with newspapers since he was black. He wrote numerous books and poems before he died at 33 of tuberculosis.

poet 1 poet 2

At this point we were hungry, so we drove to the Museum of the Air Force (just 8 miles away) and had our picnic lunch, then started that tour.

museum 1 museum 2

This place is huge. I’ll just note a few items I found unique and interesting. If you want to see lots of airplanes and war history, this is a good place to visit. John says there are several planes he had not known of.

The “Red Baron’s” plane (reproduction), a Fokker Dr.I triplane (WWI)

red baron 1 red baron 2

An Observation Balloon (WWI)

observation 1 observation 2 observation 3

This homing pigeon survived such a remarkable journey to deliver his message (WWI) that, after he died of old age, they stuffed him and gave him honors. As he began his flight the enemy laid down a furious bombardment. Through this fire he circled, gained his bearings and flew. Men in the trenches saw a shell explode near him. The concussion tossed him upward and plunged him downward. Struggling he regained altitude and flew on. 25 minutes later he arrived at his home site (Rampont, France) a terrible sight: A bullet had pierced his breast, shrapnel ripped his tiny body, and his right leg was missing. His message tube was intact. Weeks of nursing restored his health, but not his leg so he couldn’t continue as a homing pigeon. He became a war hero and earned the name “John Silver” after the 1 legged pirate.

pigeon 1

The Spokesman Review (the newspaper in our hometown Spokane, WA) gave a Free-For-All Trophy (WWI).

trophy 1 trophy 2

Model T ambulance (WWI). Similar ones were driven by Ernest Hemingway and Walt Disney among others. John worked as a paramedic for 26 years.


In a special Holocaust exhibit they had a letter and violin from a 15 year old Jew and an accordion of a young Jew who managed to escape via the special Kindertransport train from Germany to Britain. Note: Another set of trains  carried around 600 children over the weeks from Czechoslovakia before it was captured by Hitler’s men. This train was organized by a young British financial broker (Nicholas Winton, now 105 years old) who wanted to do something to help. He’s still alive, building “old peoples’ homes”. We just saw a show about him on PBS.

Jew 1 Jew 2 jew 3

Nose Art

art 1 art 2

Short Snorter-souvenirs the men created by putting paper currency in a plastic sleeve. In a bar, if you had the shortest snorter or didn’t have one at all you had to buy everyone a round of drinks! (WWII)

short snorter 1 short snorter 2

The plane that dropped “Fat Boy” on Nagasaki and ended WWII, named the Bockscar.

bockscar 1 Bockscar 2

As you can tell, I was getting pretty tired by now so not all that into all the planes. Believe me, there were plenty. You even could walk through a few and even experience the feel of riding in one.

Jolly Green 22 – one huge helicopter (Vietnam War)

jolly green 1 jolly green 2

This was a cool looking plane – a Lear Jet C-21A (After Vietnam)

jet 0 jet 1

These last are recent stealth planes. The Boeing Bird of Prey is near the ceiling.

stealth 1 stealth 2

Poor John had been suffering a racking cough through most of this day, so finally, at 4:40 pm we got going home. It was a rough night of coughing for him. Nothing seemed to settle it. Hope the night goes better – we’re trying Robitussin DM for that.

About Patricia Elser

I've always loved the loose, flowing, transparent look of watercolors, of Chinese paintings and their calligraphy, but alas, no watercolor classes were available when I was in school, so that interest remained buried until my children were grown. Even then, I was afraid that I couldn't really paint, so upon my sister's advice, I actually started to take classes. I signed up for every class available, determined to learn no matter how afraid I was. I came upon a teacher, Stan Miller, who inspired me, who opened the door to success in watercolor. I love to look at beautiful images. I want to capture them forever. All my life, photography was how I gathered images of the beauty I saw. Thanks to all that photography, I enjoy composing pictures, especially up close. Watercolors allow me to add more of me in their translation of that beauty. My paintings reflect my love for music and dance, with their rhythm and flow. I am fascinated by the play of light, so it appears in my pictures as drama for they are filled with darks and lights. Maybe it's the challenge, maybe it's the beauty, but now, when a work comes together, it fills my soul.
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