Let the world know: Dayton is the Birthplace of Aviation

Wright Image Group plans monument at Crossroads of America

 By Leo Deluca

Photo: Aerieal view of I-70 and I- 75 intersection with a model of the Wright Memorial

The Wright Image Group (WIG) plans to honor the “Birthplace of Aviation” by erecting a 250-foot-high monument to the Wright brothers at the intersection of I-70 and I-75. According to its promotional video, the non-profit organization intends to construct “a replica of the 1905 Flyer with a 144-foot wingspan, on a pedestal 250 feet high.” Due to its location at I-70 and I-75, WIG estimates that “the monument will be viewed annually by over 53 million vehicles and will serve as an icon, not just for the Ohio region, but for the entire nation.”

Wright Image Group’s vision is simple: “A soaring monument to aviation’s past, present and future – and the brothers who made it possible – standing proudly in the place of its birth.” WIG is a volunteer group of business people, managers, engineers, architects, pilots, lawyers and activists. They plan to move forward with the project, regardless of how long it takes to bring to fruition. Curt Nelson, vice president of public information for Wright Image Group, noted, “We have a core of directors on the board, myself included, who are completely dedicated to the project. We will continue to push this project until it becomes a reality.”

Walt Hoy, owner of Fox Lite Inc. in Fairborn, had the original idea for the Wright monument. Nelson recalled, “In the early ’90s [Hoy] attended a meeting of the Experimental Aircraft Association in New Carlisle where there was great frustration with the fact that although the Wright brothers lived in Dayton and developed the world’s first practical airplane here, there was virtually no community recognition of its impact. Certainly there was no attempt to capitalize on it the way that North Carolina did with the brothers’ test flights at Kitty Hawk. At that meeting they decided to see if they could encourage the Dayton region to accept the Flyer as its ‘brand’ – something to symbolize the region’s rich aviation heritage. Walt carried the idea from there, but it stayed low-level until he had the kind of support it took to incorporate the Wright Image Group in 2006 – a non-profit whose purpose is to execute the idea. That was the beginning of serious progress on the project.” Along with Hoy and Nelson, the Wright Image Group Board of Directors includes many prominent regional citizens, including the Wright brothers’ great-grandniece, Amanda Wright Lane.

In addition to honoring our region, the monument will inevitably shed light on North Carolina’s claims as “First in Flight.” While the 1903 Wright Flyer first launched from Kitty Hawk, N.C., the Wright brothers lived, worked and conducted their research in the Dayton area. Though high winds were necessary, the Wright’s decision to test fly in North Carolina was somewhat arbitrary. In fact, the event could have occurred in any number of windy locales.

According to Brady Kress, president & CEO of Dayton History, “Wilbur, with recommendations from fellow aviation enthusiast Octave Chanute and the National Weather Bureau, considered a number of locations to test his Dayton gliders: San Diego, Calif.; Pine Island, Fla.; Indiana Dunes; as well as sites on the South Carolina and Georgia coasts. All had to be available for his tests between September and January – a slow time for his bicycle business – and provide strong, steady winds, isolation and soft sands for landing. The closest he could find to Dayton, and the best at meeting all of his requirements, was Kitty Hawk, N.C. […] Plus, it was isolated, but had a few people willing to help him when needed.”

One of those willing to help was eminent Kitty Hawk native William Tate. Though accommodating, Tate truly did not believe the Dayton brothers would ever fly, and largely encouraged them to come to Kitty Hawk as a promotional endeavor for the small Outer Banks town. According to regional historian Mark Bernstein in “Grand Eccentrics,” “Tate was Kitty Hawk’s leading citizen – postmaster, notary public and county commissioner; he learned of the Wrights’ interest in the area when Wilbur wrote the government weather station at Kitty Hawk to ask about wind and weather. Kitty Hawkers, Tate later wrote, believed ‘in a good God, a bad Devil, a hot Hell, and more than anything else … that the same good God did not intend that man should ever fly.’” North Carolina did not pioneer flight – it facilitated a windy beach with soft sands.

Additionally, “The 1903 Flyer was far removed from a practical aircraft”, said Nelson. “The 1903 flight at Kitty Hawk was an important step in the development of the world’s first practical airplane. The Wright brothers went to Kitty Hawk for the steady, predictable winds and the privacy needed to demonstrate that their basic design had the potential to get airborne and stay airborne. That they demonstrated, but there was still a lot of work to develop the basic design into one allowing sustainable and controllable flight. They finally demonstrated this two years later on Huffman Prairie here in the Dayton region – October, 1905.”

Wright Image Group will model the monument after the 1905 Wright Flyer III— the world’s first practical airplane. According to the group’s website (wrightmonument.org), the “objective is to marshal sufficient support for this monument throughout the Dayton region to get it designed, constructed and made into an iconic marker that will forever identify the Dayton region with the Wright Brothers and the birth of aviation.” The original 1905 Flyer is on display at Dayton’s Carillon Historical Park.

Moreover, while the Gem City furthered flight, flight also furthered the Gem City. This is another motivating force behind the Wright monument. WIG noted, “In the recent past, it has been estimated that nearly 60,000 jobs in the region resulted from activities concerning aviation and aerospace research and technology. The area is home for one of the largest concentrations of aerospace engineers, scientists and technical expertise. Additionally, the numerous manufacturing facilities, service offices and advanced laboratories working in the field of aviation comprise one of the highest such concentrations in the country. To promote the image of technology and innovation that Dayton represents requires a single, easily identified symbol … an icon.”

Support has been very positive thus far. Nelson remarked, “We have resolutions of support from 12 municipalities in the region, including the city of Dayton and Montgomery County. Further, there has been virtually no opposition to the concept. We are working hard to find the kind of financial sources that will allow us to begin construction – both public and private. We continue to push as hard as we can on all fronts. When we have cash and pledges that take us to the 80 percent funding level, we will start construction. Our architect and structural engineer are confident they can build the monument within two years of that point.”

The architect for Wright Image Group is Steve Brown of Brown & Bills Architects in Englewood, and the structural engineer is Richard Meyer of Shell & Meyer Associates in Dayton.

“The design itself is pretty firm and has been tested in small wind tunnels at both the University of Dayton and the Ohio State University,” said Nelson. “Both tests indicate that the design is robust enough to withstand winds over 200 miles per hour. We do anticipate needing more wind tunnel tests with a larger model and pedestal, however, and have been working with NASA Glenn Research Center for the past year to figure out how we might do that.“

The total estimated cost of the project is $12 million. This excludes an endowment for long-term maintenance Wright Image Group is also taking into account. Thus far, WIG has collected in cash contributions and pro bono work nearly $1 million of the total project costs.

Land for the project has also been safely secured. The monument will be erected on a small parcel of land deeded by the Ohio Department of Transportation to Montgomery County and, in turn, deeded to Butler Township, expressly to be used by the Wright Image Group. The remainder of the land has been guaranteed by Singer Properties – a commercial and residential property development company currently expanding that area.

“This project is so right for Dayton,” noted Nelson, “and we’ve come to realize it’s right for the state of Ohio as well. Dayton, Ohio is the birthplace of aviation and the birthplace of today’s worldwide aerospace industry. Since 1905, when the Wright brothers successfully demonstrated sustained, controlled, powered and manned flight on Huffman Prairie – and patented that airplane – Ohio has been a leader in aerospace. That’s truer today than ever. Our intent is to raise a dramatic symbol of our aviation heritage and aerospace leadership – one that will be recognized virtually around the world.”

Our region has received phenomenal rankings on areas ranging from economic development to affordability to college education to health care to the arts and more. These rankings have been issued by Forbes Magazine, Site Selection, Bloomberg Business Week, the Brookings Institute, etc. Nelson noted, “Dayton has so much going for it that we want to shout it out to the world!”


To donate toward the construction of the Wright Monument, please visit wrightmonument.org/donations. For more information, please visit wrightmonument.org.

 Reach DCP freelance writer Leo DeLuca at LeoDeluca@DaytonCityPaper.com


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