Flying high on the ground

Troy’s WACO Museum offers classes, camps, robotics and more

By Tim Walker

WACO—pronounced like “taco”—was the name of the WACO Aircraft Company, which was located in Troy and was the single largest manufacturer of civil aircraft in the country in the 1920s and early 1930s. Now, the WACO Aircraft Museum, Historic WACO Field and WACO Learning Center—also located in Troy—are dedicated to preserving the history of the plant and the employees that made it great. The museum remains one of the Miami Valley’s hidden treasures, and one thing many area residents aren’t aware of is that the WACO Learning Center offers much more than just a glimpse into our area’s aviation heritage.

“It’s just a wonderful place,” says Author, Photographer and local Aviation Expert Dan Patterson. “They have instituted all kinds of educational programs, which is great. They have a summer camp, they have aviation cadets, they have a preschool story hour—they’ve really made it all about getting kids interested in flying. I’ve given a couple of lectures up there over the past few years, and I’ve had an exhibit there. It’s just a great place, and it’s one of the few museums around here that is really flourishing. They’ve really expanded their exhibits over the past few years.”

Nancy Royer, WACO Learning Center director, agrees. “We have our annual aviation summer camp, which runs from June 6 through 10 this year. We also have a brand new glider theater exhibit that we’re very excited about—it’s a flight simulator lab, made possible by a grant from Vectren. When you visit this exhibit, you can actually sit inside a portion of a glider. It’s built to represent the cockpit of a glider—there are seats in there, and it’s handicapped accessible, and it has about a 30-minute video presentation featuring actual footage of the gliders in operation during World War II.”

“We have so many things going on this year. We’re currently holding a Lego Contest,” Royer continues. “The pieces will be on display during February and March, and the theme is ‘Themes from Dr. Seuss.’ Our first WACO biplane rides this year will be on the June 4 and 5, just prior to the summer camp, and people who are interested in taking a ride can get more information at our website. We’ll be doing the flights one weekend in June, and then again in July, August, and September.” “We also do a lot of robotics,” Royer says. “We have four FLL teams, and one FTC team, and our FTC team has gone to the world championships two years in a row. The FTC team is high school age, and the FLL team is ages 9-14. We run a robotics camp two weeks in the summer, and it’s actually an evening camp. We begin forming our teams usually in late July or early August, and then they practice in September and start competing in December.”

The WACO Company itself had an interesting history. One of the most historically significant aircraft to come out of the WACO factory while it was in operation was the CG-4, the combat glider that was heavily used during World War II’s D-Day invasion when allied forces invaded Normandy on the coast of France. It was also used during Operation Market Garden.

“The WACO company came up with the design for the CG-4 glider, which was the most commonly used, and then the government selected that for manufacture,” says John Schilling, board member of the WACO Historical Society. “WACO didn’t have the capability to produce as many of the gliders as the government wanted to buy, so it was leased out to a bunch of other companies. But WACO also manufactured over 1,700 of the gliders themselves right here in Troy.”

“Between the World Wars, WACO was the airplane of choice,” confirms Patterson. “It was very easy to fly, very stable. Barnstormers flew them. They’d land them in a cornfield and give rides. There was a cabin WACO that was one of the first sort of ‘corporate’ aircraft, and that was also in the 1930s. They were all biplanes and the company did not survive the Second World War. They built all those gliders and then shortly after the war the economy changed, and their hope that everybody would want to have a Chevy in the driveway and a WACO at the airport didn’t happen; the post-war economics really did the company in. They started laying people off, they started downsizing and they finally closed the doors in 1947.”

The company may have closed in 1947, but the legacy, learning and sheer love of flying thankfully live on at the WACO Historic Field, Museum and Learning Center.

The WACO Museum and Historic WACO Field can be found at 1865 S. Co. Rd. 25A in Troy. Museum hours are Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-1:30 p.m. and Saturday-Sunday, 12-5 p.m. For more information, please visit

Tim Walker is 50 and a writer, DJ and local musician. He lives with his wife and their two children in Dayton, where he enjoys pizza, jazz and black t-shirts. He can be reached at

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Tim Walker is 51 and a writer, DJ, and local musician. He lives with his wife and their two children in Dayton, where he enjoys pizza, jazz, and black T-shirts. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Walker at

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